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Healthcare must improve for Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Many Syrian refugees are at risk from treatable illnesses because they cannot access healthcare
Many Syrian refugees are at risk from treatable illnesses because they cannot access healthcare

Many Syrians who have fled to Lebanon are now being forced to return to a war zone in order to receive the medical care that they need.

More than a million displaced people from Syria have crossed the border into Lebanon, fleeing the fighting that has been raging for over 3 three years. This figure is expected rise to 1.5 million by the end of this year, which would equal a third of Lebanon's pre-crisis population. The host country has been struggling to cope with this influx of people and this has now become especially apparent in relation the healthcare provide to Syrians in Lebanon.

A new report by Amnesty International suggests that a large funding gap has begun to develop, as international aid fails to match what is needed to provide proper care for the displaced people. Worryingly, the report reveals that many are actually returning to Syria to receive treatments and medicines that are unavailable in Lebanon. Not only does this have an impact on people's general health, but they are also at direct risk when they are forced to return to a conflict zone to get the care they need.

Limited care

Healthcare in Lebanon is almost completely privatised and this has made it inaccessible to displaced Syrians, who have no insurance and can rarely afford to pay. Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Thematic Issues at Amnesty International, tells ReliefWeb that people are forced to choose “between paying medical care or rent or food”. These difficult choices only place further pressure on groups that have already undergone great trauma and they are not the only ones that have to make tough decisions.

Though people can get subsidised medical care – they still have to pay 25% – from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), this is now stretched to breaking point. This overstretching is largely a result of the fact that only 17% of the funds needed to care for displaced Syrians has been received so far. Lack of funding has meant that the UNHCR has had to set strict criteria for which conditions receive treatment and which don't. These rules have generally meant that more complex and expensive treatments are not subsidised, so that as many people as possible can have access to basic care and treatment for life threatening injuries.

Worsening problems

In many cases, this has meant that conditions that would have responded well to early treatment have become life threatening as a result of being left untreated. This was the case with Arif, a 12 year old whose story was detailed in the report. He had severe burns on his legs, but was denied care because he didn't meet the UNHCR's strict criteria. Due to this delay, his burns became infected and he needed extensive operations, which were also too expensive to qualify for subsidised care. Luckily, his immediate treatment was covered by a local charity, but his story is indicative of the broader challenges that many face.

Amnesty's report calls on the Lebanese government to develop a more comprehensive national health strategy that will account for the long-term needs of displaced Syrians. However, it is also calling on donor countries to fulfil their aid commitments. As Gaughran goes on to tell ReliefWeb, “this is a shared international responsibility and countries that have the economic means must step up to it”.

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