March 5, 2013 - As the conflict in Syria continues, the number of refugees flowing into neighboring countries including Lebanon has shown steady growth. Although the official number reported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is 325,000 registered refugees in Lebanon as of the end of February, the Government of Lebanon estimates that there are nearly one million Syrians seeking shelter and services within the country. Registration with UNHCR has gained momentum with close to 40,000 Syrians registered in February alone.
International Medical Corps has been working in Lebanon since the 2006 war and has been providing a comprehensive response for Syrians in crisis from the outset of the 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 aren't 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 3 months, we have increased our primary health care (PHC) coverage from 10 PHC centers to 23. We have also 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 has 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 January 2012, we admitted 88 SHC cases for hospital treatment. A year later this figure shifted to 1,652 in a single month. It is expected that March patient numbers will increase further to 3,000 equaling the entire caseload for 2012 in just a 4-week period. Up to 30 percent of the SHC caseload relates to pregnancies and newborns while 44 percent are children under 18 years and elderly patients requiring lifesaving interventions. This demonstrates the significant dependency Syrian refugees have on the complex and overburdened health infrastructure in Lebanon. Over 9,000 Syrians approached the PHC network during February. International Medical Corps is keen to strengthen the network moving forward in order to decrease the massive numbers seeking SHC.
The scale in numbers coupled with the current living conditions of many Syrians is increasing the risk of various outbreaks in Lebanon. International Medical Corps has expanded health awareness sessions through 16 Community Health Workers in the North and Bekka with a target of providing awareness sessions to at least 4,000 individuals per month. In recent months, cases of Leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of the sandfly, have been discovered. In addition, Hepatitis A cases are being reported in the northern port city of Tripoli and in Bekka along with cases of scabies and lice. International Medical Corps is providing appropriate care and health education for affected populations.
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.
Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, International Medical Corps’ mission has been consistent: relieve the suffering of those impacted by war, natural disaster, and disease, by delivering vital health care services and sustainable development projects that focus on training. This approach of helping people help themselves is critical to returning devastated populations to self-reliance. For more information visit: www.InternationalMedicalCorps.org. Also see us Facebook and follow us on Twitter.