“At my age, a person like me is constantly seeking medical healthcare. I don’t have the means to afford it anywhere else, but here” says Fatouma.
Twelve years into the Syrian conflict, Lebanon continues to grapple with a worsening humanitarian crisis, compounded by a variety of factors including the Ukrainian conflict, COVID-19, a cholera outbreak, and the devastating Beirut port explosion. Lebanon stands out as one of the countries with the highest per capita refugee population, estimated at 1.5 million Syrian refugees who fled since the start of the conflict. This situation is further exacerbated by an unforeseen economic, financial, social, and health crisis over the past two years.
Lebanon is facing a complex crisis that has given rise to urgent and increasing humanitarian demands within the vulnerable communities. The multilayered crisis has also had a profound effect on the accessibility and affordability of fundamental services like healthcare. Rising costs for importing medications and medical supplies, coupled with scarcity of essential medications and maintenance of healthcare facilities, have led to a sharp increase in patient costs for treatments and consultations. The availability of skilled healthcare professionals has also diminished, with most seeking better job prospects abroad. Accessing health services, which were already grappling with difficulties before the economic crisis and exacerbated by it, are now on the verge of total collapse. As highlighted by the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP, 2023), the primary obstacles hindering access to healthcare include the cost of treatment, consultations, and transportation to and from the centre. As the situation remains, with limited access to healthcare services and increasing poverty, the risk of disease outbreaks such as cholera and measles is on the rise, and the system is increasingly ill-equipped to handle new challenges.
Since 2014, Medair in Lebanon has worked to improve the access of vulnerable communities to quality primary healthcare services in Bekaa and Baalbek-Hermel, through supporting health centres with medicines, equipment, and capacity building, together with community outreach. In 2022, Medair initiated operations at the Serraaine primary healthcare center in Baalbek, an area with substantial healthcare needs exacerbated by the ongoing economic challenges, extending primary healthcare services to Syrian refugees, vulnerable Lebanese individuals, and other nationalities in the area. Medair’s primary objective is to address the dire need for improved access to healthcare services in this underserved region of Lebanon. According to Fatouma, an 85-year-old Lebanese community member currently benefitting from doctor’s consultation at the centre says, “My mind is at ease because I know the clinic here in Serraaine exists to support community members like me. At my age, a person like me is constantly seeking medical healthcare. I don’t have the means to afford it anywhere else, but here. You know how the ongoing situation in Lebanon is. Health care is essential, but unfortunately, now it’s a luxury most communities cannot afford anymore. People like me rely on these types of health centres for medical health care.” Recognizing the critical role that healthcare plays in the well-being of communities, Medair’s efforts were geared towards bringing hope and essential healthcare to those who had been deprived of adequate healthcare.
According to Zainab, a registered nurse working at the Serraaine primary healthcare centre, people weren’t motivated to come to the centre to access essential healthcare services. “Before Medair started its support here, the centre was struggling very hard to provide the essential medications, equipment, and skilled human capacity to properly cater to the health needs of the affected communities. The accessibility to consultations, availability of services, and doctor’s hours were much more limited, as was the staff’s capacity to carry out day-to-day operations. The community remained largely unaware of the healthcare services at their disposal due to a lack of outreach efforts. Notably, the number of visitors seeking healthcare was considerably lower during this period. We simply saw fewer people before. There was a significant need to improve the health facility. This changed dramatically since Medair started its support here. The number of community members seeking health services here has gone up significantly. Medair’s presence, support, and outreach activities within the communities instilled a sense of confidence among the people to come and benefit from the variety of essential healthcare services. Currently, about 80 to 90 people come daily to the centre to benefit from healthcare services. Before, we used to see about 20 people that would come in daily. Now community members have access to a wide variety of consultations with minimum fees.”
Medair’s dedicated team exerted unwavering efforts in partnership with the centre, to recruit skilled healthcare staff members, comprising of doctors, nurses, and support personnel, empowering the team by providing capacity-building training, and ensuring they met the increasing demand for healthcare services. Patients visiting Medair-supported health clinics receive subsidized consultations with experienced doctors, as well as free vaccinations and medications, psychosocial support, and public health awareness sessions. Doctor Zakaria, a cardiologist at the Serraaine primary health care centre emphasizes the significance of the existence of healthcare facilities, “In the past, most of the population would lean towards private practices or accessing healthcare through hospitals. Now due to soaring inflation, rise in fuel costs, and currency fluctuation, people can no longer access private healthcare or hospitals, which is why primary health clinics are playing a crucial role in providing quality healthcare. More people are realizing that they can access high-quality healthcare for a lower cost through primary health clinics. Here at the Serraaine Primary Health Clinic, with Medair’s support, we provide all kinds of services that cater to the community’s needs. The bulk of our services are provided to the elderly, women, and children. The communities can access high-quality healthcare with minimum fees. We exist for the communities, and we are here to serve.”
By August 2023, monthly doctor consultations at the Serraaine primary healthcare clinic had surged to an impressive 2,000 per month, a staggering increase compared to the year before. This surge in consultations signified a substantial improvement in the overall health of the community, as more individuals were now accessing healthcare and treatment based on their needs.
Medair’s health services in Lebanon are funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and generous private donors.
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.