leaving us not just to our fate, but to our slow and painful death

Christine, a 28-year-old nurse in the Lebanese army, used to spend about a quarter of her salary on life-saving medication for her parents who both have severe heart conditions.

She was able to manage until Lebanon’s cash-strapped government this week cut back subsidies on medicines. Now, she says the price tag will eat up her entire wage and that of her 65-year-old father, who works a night-time security job.

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“No family can afford this,” she told Reuters, using only her first name due to regulations barring army personnel from speaking to the media. “The government…came (to power) to save the country but are leaving us not just to our fate, but to our slow and painful death.”

Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet, which took office in September, has rolled back subsidies on basic goods including fuel and now medication, but has failed to provide an increasingly impoverished population with a social safety net.

Lebanon’s economic meltdown, driven by endemic state corruption, waste and mismanagement, has been dubbed one of the worst in the world: three quarters of the population now suffer from poverty according to the United Nations. But a UN poverty expert said last week that Lebanese officials were in a “fantasy land” and had no sense of urgency to ease the crisis.

Health Minister Firass Abiad told Reuters a range of subsidies remained in place for many medicines, including the most expensive and crucial medications, and people could find some free drugs at primary healthcare centers.

Abiad lamented the absence of a government safety net as “a crime” but said the subsidy move was based on financial necessity and would lead to drugs missing for months to become available within two weeks.

“This is the first time someone is trying to find realistic solutions that are sustainable,” he said.

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