Lebanon: Palestinian boy, 3, dies after 'hospitals refuse care'

Child's mother says the three hospitals gave different pretexts for denying the family help.

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    Three-year-old Mohammed Wehbe died on December 18 from a chronic neurological condition [Al Jazeera]
    Three-year-old Mohammed Wehbe died on December 18 from a chronic neurological condition [Al Jazeera]

    Beirut, Lebanon - A three-year-old Palestinian boy died after hospitals across Lebanon allegedly refused to provide him with a bed in an intensive care unit.

    Mohammed Wehbe suffered from a serious brain condition and urgently needed treatment after his condition worsened.

    He was admitted to Tripoli's Islamic Hospital on December 14. However, the hospital did not have a bed in the ICU, and when his family contacted at least three other hospitals, they said they were turned down.

    He died three days later.

    "If he had been admitted to an intensive care unit on the first day, and received the care he needed, he would have still been alive in my lap," his mother, Umm Mohammed, said.

    Mohammed suffered from hydrocephalus, a chronic neurological condition in which spinal fluid build up and puts pressure on the brain.

    Umm Mohammed said that the different hospitals gave different pretexts for denying the family help. She claimed that Hammoud Hospital, where the boy had been treated previously, refused to admit Mohammed because they had not paid his previous bill in full. Hariri and Karantina hospitals refused to admit him, she said, because they claimed to not accept patients of other hospitals.

    "I accept God's destiny," she told Al Jazeera. "But I curse the hospitals, including Hariri hospital, Karantina hospital and Hammoud hospital."

    Mohammed was eventually moved to Tripoli Government Hospital on a promise that he would be moved to the specialised paediatric care unit, but by then it was too late. He died in the emergency ward before he could be admitted.

    Mohammed lived in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp with his parents and sister. Fellow residents said they were angered at the failure of even the final hospital, which had a bed in the intensive care unit, to move him there in time.

    There have been daily protests in the camp since Mohammed's death.

    UNRWA funding

    Milad Salameh, an activist in the camp, told Al Jazeera that he suspected the delay was caused by the hospital waiting for the transfer of payment from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

    UNRWA pays for healthcare and education to more than five million Palestinian refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Salameh said he believed that the agency had been "cutting corners" since the US withdrew its share of funding.

    "People are suffering from the shrinking of UNRWA services," he said. "They got angry and took to the streets and started burning tyres."

    However, UNRWA denied this and said that the specialised care that Mohammed needed was unavailable in any of the hospitals until December 17.

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    "The UNRWA medical team in the North (of Lebanon) and in Beirut exerted all possible efforts to find a bed for the child in any hospital across Lebanon that would have such a specialised paediatric care but there were no beds available until early afternoon of December 17, when UNRWA succeeded in finding him a bed at the Tripoli Governmental hospital. He unfortunately passed away on the night of the 17th," UNWRA said in a statement.

    The protesters have erected a tent on the main street demanding a hospital be built inside the camp, which is home to 40,000 Palestinians.

    The residents also say they see a trend. They say Mohammed was not the first child to die because of a lack of concern towards Palestinians and inadequate medical facilities.

    While the individual hospitals have not commented, Lebanon's caretaker Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani denied the allegations. He said that Mohammed had been treated in a number of hospitals earlier and his treatment was financially assured by the UNRWA. He added that the child's condition had deteriorated beyond the scope for successful treatment and reached a "very advanced" stage, which led to his death.

    Umm Mohammed however still believes that whether it was due to the family's lack of money, his Palestinian identity, or a lack of medical facilities, Lebanon failed her son.

    "My son is sleeping in peace now away from the heartless people in this country," she said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News