Six years after the beginning of the Syrian crisis, life remains very precarious for the over 1 million Syrians who have sought refuge in Lebanon. With their limited resources exhausted, almost 90 per cent of them are living in debt. Healthcare is a major cause of refugees falling into debt.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, provides access to life-saving and emergency hospitalizations, as well as to safe deliveries, at a network of hospitals across the country. In 2016, Japan’s generous contribution of USD 2.76 million allowed UNHCR to support more than 4,000 hospitalizations for refugees, helping to save thousands of lives.
BEIRUT, Lebanon, 28 February 2017 (UNHCR) – A few months ago, Abdallah, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee boy, fell down the stairs while playing with his friends and brothers. The fall was so severe that he broke both his wrists, fractured his skull and ruptured his spleen.
Such an accident would make any parent very worried, but Abdallah’s parents had additional concerns. With only seasonal and unstable opportunities as a construction worker, Abdallah’s father could barely provide for his family, let alone afford hospitalization fees for his son. Healthcare is largely privatized in Lebanon, and hospital fees are prohibitive for most refugees.
But thanks to the support of donors, including the Government of Japan, UNHCR could make sure Abdallah received the care he needed. He was immediately taken to the hospital where he spent an entire week, including four days in the Intensive Care Unit until the bleeding stopped.
For Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, healthcare is the third biggest expense, after food and rent, a study released in December 2016 found. This is particularly challenging at a time when refugees have become increasingly vulnerable and are struggling to meet even their most basic needs.
“UNHCR helped us by covering 90 per cent of the hospital fees,” said Rihab, the young refugees’ mother. “Abdallah’s healing process was long,” she explains, as he carefully writes in French and Arabic on a notebook placed on the carpet. Upon returning to school, after having his wrists in casts for over a month, he found difficulties in writing. Now, he is regaining his ability to write and participate in school activities.
Injuries, like Abdallah’s, are among the most common conditions requiring hospital treatment for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Other common conditions requiring hospitalization include: child birth, respiratory diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, neonatal and congenital diseases, poisoning, gastro-intestinal diseases and cardiovascular conditions.
While Abdallah is diligently doing his homework, his brother Taha, 7, is performing somersaults and acrobatic flips. With his wrist still healing, Abdallah cannot yet play with his brothers and friends the way he would like. Nonetheless, thanks to the treatment received, he can use his hands almost normally again.
Without adequate access to health care, refugees could find themselves at increasing risk of poor health and distress. Substandard shelter, lack of appropriate waste disposal and poor hygienic facilities are additional contributing factors to health problems among refugees.
In Tripoli, a city in northern Lebanon, we meet Sawsan, a 30-year-old Syrian refugee. In August 2016, the refugee woman felt a terrible pain in her stomach and back. When the aching became unbearable, her husband took her to the emergency ward of their local hospital, where tests were urgently run. The results showed that she had a severely inflamed gall bladder and needed to be operated on immediately.
However, the hospitalization fees were exorbitant for the refugee family, who relies mostly on aid, as it had been impossible for them to find work. According to the findings of a survey by UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP released in December 2016, over 70 per cent of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon now live below the poverty line. In this context, most refugees depend on UNHCR, partners and the Lebanese Government to ensure their basic healthcare needs are met.
With the large number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, UNHCR’s resources are not able to meet all the health care needs of refugees. But thanks to vital funding from the Government of Japan and other donors, UNHCR has been able to contribute between 75 and 90 per cent of the cost of treatment for deliveries, and live-saving and emergency healthcare, ensuring admission to hospitals across Lebanon.
Despite this, the urgently needed care was provided to Sawsan on time, as UNHCR subsidized a large part of the fees. “Had UNHCR not covered 75 per cent of the hospital bill, I am sure the gall bladder would have exploded inside my body,” the refugee woman said while sitting next to her son Mahmoud, 5. “We would not have been able to do the surgery; I do not know what would have happened to me.”
Abdallah and Sawsan are among the over 73,000 refugees who were able to access much-needed life-saving and emergency healthcare in 2016, thanks to the generous support to UNHCR of the Government of Japan and other donors.
UNHCR’s note: This story was previously also published in Japanese on UNHCR Japan’s website.