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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.

January 28, 2021

Coronavirus Dispatch: Horror scenes in Lebanon intensive care wards

Lebanon’s intensive care wards are gripped with dreaded scenes, leaving the doctors and staff with no choice but to make life and death decisions about who should receive scarce medical resources and choose between two people on who to save and who to leave dying. 

Virus-stricken people are gasping for breath, in the horror hospital scenes as rising cases, following Christmas holidays, swamped the scanty medical resources. The medics say they are on the edge of “the Italy scenario”. More than 1,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Lebanon in January. 

“The country is falling apart,”

While many countries have grappled with hospital bed shortages and the need to prioritise care, Lebanon’s response has been hobbled by the more than year-long financial crisis and the blast at Beirut port, which devastated the city, partly destroying four hospitals.

Two weeks into a strict lockdown, inconsistently enforced, Lebanon’s intensive care units are 94 percent full. The entire country is affected.

Some hospitals had to treat patients in the hallways and in the emergency department entrance. Patients admitted to hectic emergency wards alone face the prospect of dying far from family. Medical staff just hold iPads up to the dying so they can see their families one last time. 

December 23, 2020

SEMA US: 2020 Impact Report

2020 saw the unprecedented confluence of a deadly global pandemic with natural disasters worldwide. In response to these unrelenting catastrophes, SEMA US this year worked on more fronts than ever before. This report provides an overview of how SEMA US has leveraged support from generous individuals, companies, and foundations to significantly expand operations while continuing ongoing services and support for local health systems in 2020.

By the numbers

  • $310,000 in donations
  • 19,800+ accommodated patients and provided free pharmacy
  • $20,000 spent on prostheses for amputated patients
  • 100 sponsored nursing and paramedics students

Strengthening health systems during COVID-19

SEMA US equips low-resource communities with health care services, medicines and supplies on an ongoing basis and in response to emergencies. In 2020, the organization has been called upon to continue its support for medically vulnerable communities and those still affected by disasters from previous years while the global Covid-19 pandemic has intensified. As most global commercial and humanitarian activity significantly contracted due to Covid-19, SEMA US drastically expanded its response efforts to: 

  • Provide medical materials, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), having delivered thousands of masks, gloves, and other PPE items free-of-charge to health workers on the frontlines of the pandemic 
  • Provide ventilators to help establish ICUs in community health centers to support their vital front-line role in providing access to health care, including Covid-19-related services
  • Distribute hygiene bags which contains cleaning and hygiene materials to equip underprivileged refugee families affected by healthcare exclusion
  • Raise awareness in refugee communities where access to proper medical information is lacking
  • Provide proper healthcare workers’ training and education regarding COVID-19
  • Provide screening triage areas with immediate temporal isolation shelters/tents
  • Continuously disinfect SEMA medical centers, hospitals and offices

We do not know for certain how long this pandemic will last, but what is certain is that primary care and health centers are critical to our response.

Reaching out after the Beirut Explosion

Immediately after a devastating blast rocked Beirut, Lebanon, on August 4, some SEMA US staff who were already working in the country went to health facilities to see how they could assist medics responding to the emergency:

  • Organized a donation of wound kits 
  • Treated people injured, free of charge
  • Evaluated whether patients who need further surgery can be referred to and treated in one of our hospitals after they have been stabilized
  • Assessed the most pressing needs in hospitals
  • Identified additional ways to assist people under such tragic circumstances

Supporting women and children

In low-resource communities, improvements in maternal care and children’s health strengthen health systems overall. SEMA US teams at our medical projects, although trying their best to keep the core services running, are already seeing the painful indirect effects of the pandemic.

In 2020, SEMA US has supported midwives and other maternal and child healthcare providers with medicines and supplies, including:

  • Equipping trained midwives to ensure safe births in medically vulnerable communities during the pandemic
  • Providing access to sexual and reproductive healthcare
  • Expanding with a Women and Children clinic in Lebanon to provide general medical assistance to women and children affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare access

As 2020 comes to a close and we reflect on a year shadowed by fear, uncertainty, and loss, many of us are also reminded of how precious life is. This holiday season, consider giving a gift that helps save lives at a time when so many lack access to health care.

October 29, 2020

COVID-19 and economic downfall reveal migrant workers’ mental health crisis in Lebanon

In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown and the economic crisis in Lebanon, the mental health and well-being of migrant workers has severely deteriorated.

Access to healthcare by migrant workers is very restricted in Lebanon, due to the nature of the employment model to which they are tied – known as the Kafala system – which makes them dependent on a sponsor. The mental health of migrant workers – many of whom are young women – reflects the hardships they have endured while living and working in Lebanon.  

Migrant workers are often subjected to long working hours, low wages, and restrictions on their movements and on their communication with the outside world, poor living conditions and a lack of privacy.

The onset of the COVID-19 lockdown – which came on top of the ongoing economic crisis in Lebanon – saw a dramatic decline in migrant workers’ conditions and is having a dire impact on their physical and mental health.

SEMA US has launched an emergency clinic for women and children affected by the crisis and who are in need of medical care. It receives an average of 100 patients a day for medical consultations. SEMA US provides social, mental and medical assessments and refers patients to partner clinics when needed. 

Migrant workers, including those without legal status in the country, should have access to comprehensive health services – including mental healthcare. In the current context of economic collapse and COVID-19, the provision of these services is urgently needed.

October 22, 2020

Lebanon imposes night curfew, close bars as COVID-19 patients exceed 53,000

The number of COVID-19 patients in Lebanon passed 53,000 with an average of 1,500 cases a day. 

The number of towns to be isolated increased to 169 towns, while the Ministry of Interior closed all bars, cabarets and nightclubs until further notice. Night curfews will be imposed from midnight until 6 a.m. throughout Lebanon. 

The Ministry of Interior said that the measures were to address “the ongoing pandemic reality and the increasing number of infected people in a way that exceeds the scientifically permissible rates in regions and towns, to enable the Ministry of Health teams to conduct the necessary laboratory examinations and tracking.” 

The Ministry of Interior stressed the necessity for using face masks, avoiding overcrowding, maintaining safe social distance, closing all official and private departments and institutions, and canceling all social events in isolated areas. 

MP Cesar Maalouf warned that Lebanon “has entered the stage of medical disaster in terms of hospital capacity, securing medicines and the high rate of infections, and we do not want to follow the Italian scenario. All private hospitals must open their doors to those infected with the coronavirus because government hospitals are on the verge of collapse.”

Before reaching a terrible storm of infections if not controlled before winter, the spread of the virus must be slowed down through isolation, testing and quarantining contacts.

Especially if the number of infected people per day reaches 2,000 or 3,000, then we must be concerned more than ever. What worries us most is the spread of the virus in cities with high population density, especially in Beirut. 

It can be said now that there is a societal spread of the disease, and people can only be protected by wearing face masks and by preventing gatherings, especially in closed places.

October 15, 2020

Meeting the Growing Health Needs of Women and Children Refugees

Walking into a refugee camp is like walking into a desperately overcrowded slum. Many houses are about to collapse, and most people needing care are not able to access hospital treatment. Those most seriously ill die.

Giving women and children new lives and hope in such situations is critical. Lack of access to health care means that there are high rates of deformity, disability, and mortality.

Remas Al Ali, 4, lost her hair and many doctors told her family that it will no longer grow again.

Remas family visited a pediatric clinic supported by SEMA US and started their therapy journey with Dr. Akram. He set a long term therapy plan after he did a clinical evaluation for her.

Three months later, the hair started to gradually grow again, and today the girl’s hair grows completely. Thanks to the accuracy and humanitarian treatment that the clinic offers for its patients.

Our Women and Children Clinic in Lebanon provides general medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare access. The outpouring of interest and support from our donors keep improving women’s and young patients’ adherence towards a healthier quality of life. 

SEMA US is working on multiple levels to secure healthcare reform, provide access to services, and raise awareness about women and children’s health and the need to take action.

Lebanon’s public health system has shown a lot of resilience throughout multiple crises but is now under severe strain. So many more families and refugees are pushed to the edge of poverty and despair. As this crisis continues to unfold, Their ability to survive depends on humanitarian organizations like us and on the continued generosity of people like YOU. 

October 8, 2020

Women and children face greater dangers during COVID-19 pandemic

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is having potentially catastrophic secondary impacts on the health of women and children. Decisions made at every level of the response to the pandemic are resulting in women being further cut off from sexual and reproductive health services, threatening sharp rises in maternal and neonatal mortality.

Women and children are often denied care outright or face dangerous delays getting the services they need. The impacts of misguided policies and barriers to care are especially severe in places with weak or overburdened health systems. Thousands more lives will get lost when safe delivery, neonatal, and family planning services become inaccessible due to the outbreak.

SEMA US teams at our medical projects, although trying their best to keep the core services running, are already seeing the painful indirect effects of the pandemic on women’s lives:

  • closures and cuts to sexual and reproductive health services
  • movement restrictions, including travel bans, lockdowns, and curfews
  • supply chain disruptions
  • lack of clear public health information and guidance

In addition, there has been significant reporting about the economic impacts of the pandemic, with poor and marginalised communities hardest hit. Refugees, migrant workers, and people working in informal jobs already face extreme difficulties getting access to basic healthcare, and these challenges are compounded by COVID-19.

Sexual and reproductive healthcare is essential healthcare

Sexual and reproductive health needs are often neglected in the midst of an emergency – and COVID-19 has been no different. In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued interim guidance for maintaining essential services during an outbreak, which included advice to prioritise services related to reproductive health and make efforts to avert maternal and child morbidity and mortality.

Nevertheless, frontline providers were forced to make tough choices about which services are most important, women were often left out. Resources for women’s healthcare were sometimes diverted to support COVID-19 activities.

Although access to safe delivery care has long been acknowledged as an essential health service, many pregnant women suddenly found themselves with fewer options for care. 

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