"I wouldn’t have been able to get medical treatment for my kids as my husband works on rare occasions and we can barely afford bread."
28-year-old Sahar, mother of 3, is from Halab, Syria, and lives with her family in Saida, Lebanon. “The situation is very hard here,” she explains. “Sometimes my husband doesn’t work, we have 3 children and do not receive any aid, so we can barely provide for the kids. Living conditions here are very hard.”
Their home does not have a door or any windows. Her children are sometimes forced to walk to school because Sahar does not always have the money to pay for their transportation. “I have to send my children walking even under the rain,” she explains.
Sahar’s family, however, can at least rely on the health services provided by the International Medical Corps (IMC), with the support of the EU Trust Fund, through a project called REBAHS, which stands for “Reduced Economic Barriers to Accessing Healthcare Services”. “It’s a project that focuses on primary healthcare, community healthcare, and also mental healthcare,” explains Adam, who is the project coordinator. Patients pay a moderate fee (i.e. 3,000 LL, about €1.8 euros) for consultations, lab diagnostics, test results and medications from the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health’s essential medical list.
“My son had a problem with his eye and we had to rush him to the hospital. We only paid 3,000 LL but the medicine is not covered so we have to buy it elsewhere,” explains Sahar when asked about IMC’s health services. “I came to this hospital because it was the cheapest [...], any other hospital would charge more. I wouldn’t have been able to get medical treatment for my kids as my husband works on rare occasions and we can barely afford bread.”
Since the beginning of the project in January 2018, IMC has reached displaced and vulnerable local populations, including Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese in the area. As of recently, there have been at least 700,000 consultations carried out by the IMC-led hospital.
Hiam, 69, is from Saida, Lebanon, and has also been able to benefit from this project. “I have had diabetes for 20 years so I come here to get my medicine,” she explains. “I go to the doctor and usually they take 15,000 LBP, but here you pay 3,000 LBP. I can’t afford the medicine, so I come and buy it from here.” Hiam used to get her treatment at the Hariri hospital, which however was closed down. She has been coming to the IMC-led centre for the past 4 years and her whole family is registered at the center.
Before hearing about the assistance offered by REBAHS, Hiam and her family had to borrow money to face all the financial hurdles linked to accessing treatments for various health problems. “I went to an orthopedist and had to fill out formal paperwork, but the doctor asked 7 million LBP or he wouldn’t do the surgery… another doctor,” she says, “offered to do it [...] for 1.2 million LBP [...] and that was 4 years ago. Even if you can’t really afford it, you manage to find some money for treatment.” Now, Hiam doesn’t borrow money to receive treatment: “I ask doctors where it’s more affordable to get treatment and I go there.”
People with disabilities are now also covered by the project. “The ‘persons with disabilities component’ is extremely important [...],” says Adam. “These are some of the most vulnerable members of society and they would be the most vulnerable members of society if they were in Syria, and now they are refugees in another country. They are often the hardest to access.”