Dr Camille Maalouf, Lebanese ophthalmologist and politician

The Lebanese ophthalmologist Camille Maalouf visited the IMO recently. We chatted with him about health and politics, as he is also a politician for a minority Christian party.

What brings you to Barcelona, Camille? I try to visit Dr Corcostegui at least once every two years. I worked with him at Vall d’Hebron Hospital from 1976 to 1980, when I returned to the Lebanon. I owe all of my medical and surgical knowledge to him. He is a fantastic professional: dynamic, tireless and with a magnificent human and scientific spirit. Always ready to help the sick. This all meant that we had a great affinity with each other, when we were working. Back then, we used to work up to 17 hours a day straight; I’ll never forget that time of my life. What work do you do in Lebanon? I have my own surgery, and I work in a hospital. I’m also a politician. I was a member of parliament between 2005 and 2009. I then stood again, but lost my seat. If all goes well, I’ll stand again in 2013 to become a member of the Lebanese parliament. Is there any link between political life and medicine? Of course, there is! Our parliament has 128 members. When I was there, 24 members were doctors, and we presented bills to the Health Ministry. Doctors know exactly what aspects of the health service aren’t working properly, and our aim is to improve it. It’s the same for other members of parliament. Many of them have other jobs outside politics: lawyers, engineers, etc. How does the political system in Lebanon work? Lebanon’s parliamentary and presidential system is based on the jurisprudence of France’s Fourth Republic. Our parliament has a single chamber, whose function is to propose, approve and sanction laws. It is the most important political body in the country. There is no party political system; people can personally meet members of parliament and request their help. We don’t vote for a party, but for a person, a member of parliament. As for the President of the Republic, since 1990, after the civil war, some of his powers have been taken over by the ministerial cabinet. The President still has some powers though: head of the armed forces and approving the ministerial cabinet. In general, the functions are that of arbitration and mediation between the three powers of the state. Do you have problems with your party representing the Christian minority in the Lebanon? In the area I live, Christians and Muslims live together. Despite our differences, we know that we have to get on together and make compromises for the benefit of coexistence. Of the seven members of parliament in my area, five are Christians and two are Muslims, and we have a very good relationship. We have a very similar vision for the future: helping people. What’s the healthcare system like in Lebanon? It’s a public and private system. Some professions have certain privileges, such as the military, whose healthcare expenses are covered by the state. We also have a social security system, which, unlike the Spanish system, is by co-payment. The patient has to pay 10% of the costs of medical treatment and the hospital stay, provided that the amount does not exceed 300,000 Lebanese pounds (about $200). The rest is paid by the state. Because of this, very few patients use private health care. It’s a system without waiting lists and plenty of doctors. One drawback is that most of the hospitals are located in the capital, Beirut, and not all towns have well-equipped hospitals and medical centres. We are, after all, a third-world country. We can’t afford all of the necessary equipment, because it’s very expensive. Surgical materials, for example, have to be reused after being sterilised. How do you like the new IMO? For me, this centre is the best in the world. I’ve had the chance to visit several ophthalmology centres around the world, and I haven’t seen any that comes close to this in terms of human resources and scientific expertise. All of the staff are highly professional and motivated. The former IMO was much smaller, but this is huge. It has a lot more space and facilities.

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