Month: February 2021

February 25, 2021

Lebanon: Facing the daily strain of economic, medical, and psychological crises

Lebanon is facing multiple overlapping emergencies that have had dire consequences. The country’s ongoing economic crisis has made private health care prohibitively expensive, leaving more people reliant on the public health services. The COVID-19 pandemic and the massive explosion that devastated Beirut on August 4, 2020, have put additional strain on the already stretched public health system.

The country now faces a growing shortage of medical supplies and essential medicines (such as those used to treat chronic diseases), leaving the most vulnerable people at risk. Lebanon also hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world, which means that many of the displaced people living there have already endured traumatic experiences.

SEMA US provides free health care services, addressing the medical needs of Lebanese people, refugees, and migrant workers alike. Through our health activities in various locations, SEMA US teams are directly witnessing the deteriorating situation. We spoke with patients about their experiences and the mounting challenges they face.

“At the end of the month, there’s no money left for medicine”

Amina, 34, is a mother of four. She and her family arrived in Lebanon in 2015 from Flitah, Syria. Since then, they have been living in an informal tented settlement on the outskirts of Arsal, a town at the north of Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border.

On the day this photo was taken, Amina took her son to SEMA US’ clinic. Her youngest son, 18-month-old Ahmed, was diagnosed with anemia about four months prior. “He looked very sick. He was very pale and ate very little,” Amina. “The doctor prescribed an iron supplement and advised us to feed him more vegetables and beans, since we can no longer afford meat.” Anemia is linked to iron deficiency and is common among people who have limited access to certain types of food such as meat or peas.

Thanks to SEMA US team’s supervision and medication, Ahmed is doing so much better as of this writing.

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February 18, 2021

Syrian refugees suffering in Lebanon’s Arsal

Human Rights Watch has spoken out about the dire conditions Syrian refugees are suffering in the Lebanese town of Arsal, along the border with Syria. This winter is the second since their makeshift homes were dismantled and many refugees are still left without any sort of protection from brutal weather conditions.

More than 15,000 Syrian refugees in Arsal are experiencing their second winter since a 2019 order from the Higher Defense Council, which is chaired by the president and responsible for implementing national defense strategy, required them to dismantle their shelters.

The order has forced them to live without adequate roofs and insulation, exposed to harsh winter conditions, including subzero temperatures and flooding, the statement said.

Living conditions for the Syrian refugees living in Arsal forced to dismantle their shelters in 2019 remain dire. Their situation, compounded by Covid-19 movement restrictions, threatens their safety and their very lives.

Disastrous living conditions

In November and December 2020, researchers returned to Arsal to interview seven refugees first interviewed during the summer of 2019 to assess the impact of the demolitions on their standard of living, and in particular on their access to adequate shelter during the winter months.

The refugees described dire living conditions. They also said they lack information and resources to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the statement said.

All seven refugees interviewed described harsh weather conditions and inadequate building materials. Due to flooding and heavy rains, four said that mold had formed on the wood used to rebuild the top portions of the shelters. A few said the mold caused health problems for children and asthmatic relatives.

Call for accessible health care to be provided

Despite their dire living conditions, “none of the Syrian refugees interviewed said it was safe enough for them to return to Syria.”

Donor organizations should ensure that everyone’s right to accessible medical care and services is fully protected. 

This should include increased support for taking care of Syrian refugees to protect vulnerable families from diseases and to enable them to live in safety and dignity. Facing inadequate healthcare, COVID-19 restrictions, and rampant inflation, Lebanon’s Syrian refugee population urgently needs assistance, especially during these harsh winter months.

February 18, 2021

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon three times more likely to die with COVID-19

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are three times more likely to die with COVID-19 than the population as a whole, according to U.N. figures that highlight the pandemic’s outsized impact on the community.

An estimated 207,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon after being driven from their homes or fleeing the conflict, the vast majority in cramped camps where social distancing is impossible.

Since Lebanon registered its first case, about 5,800 have been infected with the coronavirus and about 200 of them have died. That is three times the COVID-19 mortality rate for the country as a whole of just over 1%.

Most Palestinians who died after contracting the disease in Lebanon had health conditions such as cardiac or pulmonary issues, which are aggravated by poverty and conditions in the camps. Cramped living conditions and the need to go out to work meant 

Lebanese authorities bar Palestinians from obtaining Lebanese nationality or working in many skilled professions, so the refugees largely make a living doing low-paid labour in construction and crafts, or as street vendors.The focus here is on the economic elements — people go out because they can’t afford to go stay home.

Lebanon has been hammered over the past year by an acute financial crisis and a massive explosion in the capital, as well as facing one of the region’s highest coronavirus infection rates. Nine out of 10 were living in extreme poverty last year.

SEMA US has expanded its healthcare programs in Lebanon, just in time to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 response primarily focuses on increasing access to healthcare for vulnerable communities including Syrian and Palestinian refugees, and will involve adapting medical activities in its own facilities, health promotion in the community, and supporting hospitals with their fight against the outbreak.

February 5, 2021

Iraq warns of reimposing curfew as it reports 1,317 new COVID-19 cases

Iraqi Health Minister Hassan Al-Tamimi has warned that the health authorities might reimpose restrictions, including a nationwide curfew, if coronavirus cases continue to increase.

“We warn against an increase in infections and deaths due to failure to adhere to health-protective measures. There is a possibility to reimpose curfew if the number of infections continues to increase,” Al-Tamimi said in a press conference on Wednesday.

“The infections began to increase during the past two weeks, and reached yesterday to about 2.5 percent of the daily tests,” he said, adding that the Iraqi authorities have warned of taking legal actions against violations of health-protective measures.

Later in the day, a statement by the Ministry of Health reported 1,317 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total nationwide number of cases to 623,072.

It also reported 11 new deaths, raising the fatality toll to 13,079.

It said that 1,275 cases recovered during the day, bringing the total recoveries to 595,869.

A total of 5,752,920 tests have been carried out across the country since the outbreak of the disease in February 2020, with 46,583 done during the day, according to the statement.

Iraq has taken a series of measures to curb the pandemic since the first coronavirus case appeared in the country.

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