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MSF responds to COVID-19 in Lebanon

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MSF staff train healthcare workers on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Lebanon, April 2020 © MSF

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has launched activities in Lebanon to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, aiming at increasing access to healthcare for vulnerable communities.

Safeguarding regular medical programmes

MSF intends to keep most of our regular medical programmes running, while adapting them to the current situation by promptly strengthening infection prevention and control measures across its activities. The medical needs of the communities we serve cannot be put on hold.

“Building on our experience in emergency interventions and epidemics responses, we started implementing triage and pre-triage in all our clinics for the protection of patients and staff,” says Amaury Gregoire, MSF’s head of mission in Lebanon. “The communities we serve are at higher risk of being affected because of the crowded settings they live in, the weaker general health status and the barriers many face in accessing health care in Lebanon.”

MSF COVID-19 response in Lebanon

MSF’s COVID-19 response covers three areas of intervention, starting with adapting activities in our own facilities, but also providing awareness in the community, and supporting governmental hospitals with their fight against the outbreak.

This response comes in line with the national COVID-19 response, through liaising with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and other national and international health actors in Lebanon.

INCREASING THE NATION-WIDE BED CAPACITY

In an effort to support the health system in its growing need for hospitalisation beds, we are scaling up medical activities in our facilities.

“We are concerned that the number of beds currently available in the Bekaa Valley may not be enough if the outbreak takes hold,” says Gregoire. “We are preparing our teams to receive cases in our facilities too, in response to the emerging needs of the Lebanese population as well as the Syrian and Palestinian refugees or anyone else in the Valley.”

In the town of Zahle where MSF runs a paediatric ward in the Elias Hraoui Governmental hospital, our teams are supporting the hospital staff by organising the triage, screening, testing and case management for children. Tents dedicated to the triage zone for children and treatment of non-suspected cases have been set-up outside the premises.

The hospital, which is a COVID-19 referral hospital, will be ready to admit paediatric patients into the MSF ward, which is equipped with hospitalisation beds and a paediatric intensive care unit (PICU).

The ministry’s staff will take care of the triage, testing and hospitalisation of adults. The thalassemia unit, however, will be moved to a separate area in order to protect thalassemia affected children from getting exposed to COVID-19.

In the town Bar Elias, MSF’s hospital, usually handling elective surgeries and wound-care activities, will be ready to host COVID-19 patients too. The facility is being equipped with 63-beds capacity, an intensive care unit (ICU), and more than 200 trained staff members on duty.

To better prepare for a potential influx of COVID-19 patients, MSF has suspended elective surgeries for a temporary period but wound care activities are still running, especially for patients with critical wounds in need of regular dressing and treatment. These patients will be received in a tent set-up outside the hospital, in order to adapt our patient flow in the hospital.

SUPPORTING GOVERNMENTAL HOSPITALS AND ISOLATION SITES

MSF’s established presence since 2008 in various areas in Lebanon helped build a solid bond with public hospitals and different medical actors who are today fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of adapting activities in hospitals and hospital services we run, we’ve been in contact with several governmental hospitals to support them with logistic services and medical supplies, and increase their medical capacities through training staff members.

In Zahle, central Bekaa, MSF also supported the Elias Hraoui Governmental hospital by setting up a COVID-19 emergency room in the outdoor area of the premises. It will be used for pre-triage and triage of adult patients, and includes a waiting area and an area for testing.

In Saida, South Lebanon, MSF helped restore some biomedical equipment in Saida Governmental Hospital and supported, on technical and logistics levels, Al-Hamshari hospital, the central Palestinian Red Crescent Society hospital in Lebanon. In both facilities, MSF conducted training sessions for staff on infection prevention and control (IPC) measures.

MSF deployed a medical team to UNRWA’s Siblin training centre, which will be turned into an isolation site. MSF will support in the management of the facility, with a 24/7 presence of its staff on site, to ensure monitoring of patients and timely referrals of complicated cases. Our team also trained UNRWA staff on infection prevention and control and biosafety and will support them to maintain the standards they have been trained on.

All of these activities, in coordination with national and local health authorities, are essential to free treatment capacity for the ones who need it the most, to reduce mortality and to prevent further infections.

Building community engagement and awareness

Our teams have also been engaging with local and refugee communities by conducting a series of intensive health awareness sessions about COVID-19. The activities target patients as well as vulnerable communities living in different areas in Lebanon in the North (Tripoli and Akkar), the south (Ain al Helweh camp), southern Beirut (Shatila and Burj el Barajneh camps) as well as the Bekaa region.