Published: 13-08-2020 10:37 | Updated: 17-08-2020 15:12

KI disaster medicine expert on site in Beirut to help coordinate

Johan von Schreeb, Specialist in General Surgery and Disaster medicine at the Karolinska Institutet, has been on site in Beirut for a couple of days now.

What is it you intend to contribute?

Portrait of Johan von Schreeb
Johan von Schreeb. Photo: Andreas Andersson

“I am here on an assignment from the World Health Organization, the WHO, to coordinate the international field hospitals sent here in the aftermath of last week’s explosion. This is the result of the international disaster surge capacity function that I and others at KI have been involved in and established.”

“Since the earthquake in Haiti ten years ago, we at KI have worked with the WHO to build up a system to ensure the quality of international field hospitals. There is now a register with approximately 50 international field hospitals. The Prime Minister, who has since resigned, requested international assistance on Tuesday, so the WHO tries to ensure that those who come here live up to the quality requirements and agree to the coordination”.

How is this situation different from previous disaster zones you have been to?

The clock stopped when the pressure wave tore apart the hospital. Photo: Johan von Schreeb

“It is very different in a way – here there was one blast and then it was over – when I was in Mosul, there was a blast all the time. But it is a very unique situation in other ways.  Lebanon actually has access to enormous healthcare resources and specialist care, but it is private.  There is a lot of pride in the fact that there are well-trained staff and specialists, often trained in the US, England and KI for that matter”.

What are the biggest challenges?

“The challenges relate to financing, that there are so many people who are poor and cannot afford to pay for healthcare. Lebanon has seen its share of crisis – civil war, a refugee crisis, economic crisis and then came the coronavirus pandemic and the explosion. And the fact that the government has resigned also poses a challenge: Should we provide support to the state-run hospitals when the state is part of the problem”?

“Another challenge is the often complex political implications when field hospitals arrive from many different countries at the same time”.

To care for patients, a field hospital is being built at St. George's University Hospital with room for 80 patients. Photo: Johan von Schreeb

Will the explosion affect the COVID-19 situation in Lebanon?

“The pandemic is starting to accelerate here now, so we will try to utilise the resources that have been sent to help build up COVID-19 care. A lot of the things we did at KI, such as the online training for Swedish health care professionals, will be very useful here. The intensive care units here are full, and this will most certainly grow into an even bigger problem. But we can utilise the knowledge that has emerged out of COVID care the last few months – the WHO can help make this kind of expertise available so that our Lebanese colleagues have access to the most up-to-date treatment methods”.

“I think that it is great that through our collaboration with the WHO (the Centre for Research on Health Care in Disasters at KI has been a WHO collaborating centre since 2017) KI can contribute on an operational level while ensuring that our contribution is based on research-based knowledge”.

So how long will you stay there?

“Until the end of the month, tentatively, but we will see how things go. I can work online and attend to my KI responsibilities from here as well”.


Photographer in Beirut: Johan von Schreeb