As the conflict in Syria continues, the number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon has more than quadrupled over the past six months. On January 1, 2013 Lebanon was hosting some 130,000 refugees; today that figure stands at more than 600,000. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that by the end of 2013, more than 1 million Syrians will have registered as refugees in Lebanon.
International Medical Corps, which has been working in Lebanon since the 2006 war, has provided a comprehensive response for Syrians in crisis from the outset of the Syria conflict. We are the largest health provider for Syrian refugees in Lebanon covering three of the four main geographical regions of the country – the North, Bekka and South of the Litani River. While there are no official refugee camps for Syrians in Lebanon and they are not likely to materialize in the near future, ad hoc camps and collective centers have started to spring up in the North and Bekka Valley. International Medical Corps has expanded rapidly to meet the growing health needs with activities spread beyond traditional geographic areas.
In just 3 months, International Medical Corps increased our primary health care (PHC) coverage from 10 PHC centers to 23. We expanded our cadre of mobile medical units by at least one unit in each area in order to reach the centers and rural villages where many refugees reside. International Medical Corps also added an additional 6 hospitals supporting Secondary Health Care (SHC) for Syrian refugees, bringing the total to 17 hospitals. SHC is an intermediate level of health care that includes diagnosis and treatment performed in hospitals with specialized equipment and laboratory facilities.
In the January to June period of 2013, International Medical Corps provided Syrian refugees with 53,885 medical consultations at 22 primary health care facilities and 4 mobile medical units, reaching the most vulnerable refugee communities in remote areas, collective shelters and informal tented settlements. In addition, International Medical Corps supported 8,627 diagnostic and laboratory tests and provided 13,447 patients with SHC.
Awareness-raising health education is a key element of International Medical Corps’ primary health care services in recognition of the valuable role such initiatives play in limiting the spread of communicable diseases and minimizing health care costs. Between January 2013 and June 2013, 33,503 individuals attended health awareness sessions run by International Medical Corps. International Medical Corps also trained 90 Lebanese nurses and social workers on mother and child health care services, and selected 24 to work as health educators. These health educators have conducted sessions in health care facilities and collective shelters on a range of issues, including the identification and prevention of diarrhea, lice, scabies, leishmaniasis, hepatitis A and tuberculosis, as well as on personal hygiene, food safety, nutrition, pregnancy and child care, and vaccinations.
In recognition of the trauma caused by violence, International Medical Corps has expanded its mental health program to meet refugees’ needs for psychosocial support and counseling services. In the first six months of 2013, International Medical Corps provided 8,288 mental health consultations free of charge through 7 case management teams integrated into 20 health care facilities and community centers around the country. International Medical Corps has also been working to integrate mental health into primary health care, as well as build capacity for the identification and awareness of mental health needs by training community members. Our achievements include: 89 social/community outreach workers trained in psychological first aid; 32 outreach workers received community-based mental health training since January; 162 doctors, nurses and social workers trained in the assessment and management of a range of mental health problems.
Further, in collaboration with local gender-based violence (GBV) partners, International Medical Corps is working to increase the capacity of outreach workers to detect GBV and domestic violence cases, to create a safe place for the survivors of such abuse, and to promote gender equality and female participation within both refugee and host communities. In June 2013, International Medical Corps’ mental health team opened two community centers, in the North and central Bekaa, where, in addition to psychosocial support, protection and GBV programs will be implemented. International Medical Corps has also provided training on the clinical management of rape to clinic and hospital staff.
The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, the UK’s Department for International Development and UNHCR have provided International Medical Corps with financial support to assist in programming over the past year. However, greater support is needed going forward for Lebanon. There has been intense pressure exerted on all sectors in the country since the crisis began. It is estimated that up to 120,000 Syrian children are not able to access schooling in Lebanon, bed occupancy in many hospitals is close to capacity and a saturation point has been reached in many areas in terms of accommodation for new arrivals. International Medical Corps will continue to engage with the Government of Lebanon, the UN, non-governmental organizations and the international community to highlight and address the dire needs of those seeking health assistance in Lebanon.