Funding shortfall cuts Syrian refugees’ medical care in Lebanon-Amnesty

by Magda Mis | @magdalenamis1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 21 May 2014 17:15 GMT

Syrian refugees who fled the Syrian town of Flita, near Yabroud, pose for a photo at the border town of Arsal in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley. Photo March 20, 2014. REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah

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Syrian refugees in Lebanon are being denied treatment for cancer, diabetes and heart disease because of the high cost.

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A shortfall in funding has left many of the one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon without vital medical care, Amnesty International said in a report released on Wednesday.

In some cases refugees have been turned away from hospitals, even if they needed emergency care. Others decided to return to Syria to seek treatment despite the civil war, Amnesty said.

The United Nations has so far received only 21 percent of the $1.7 billion for which it had appealed for Lebanon this year.

The Lebanese health system is largely privatised and because the cost of treatment is high, many refugees rely on care that is subsidized by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

“The biggest challenge and barrier to the health response in Lebanon are costs and the privatised healthcare system which makes up to 80 percent of services”, Dr. Adam Coutts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who has been researching the Syrian health crisis for the past three years, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Half of the Lebanese population themselves are uninsured and unable to access services. There are enough services in Lebanon to cope with the crisis. It just costs!”

The shortage of funds has led the UNHCR to prioritise primary and emergency care for Syrian refugees, and those needing more costly and complex treatments and hospital care often go untreated.

Even those refugees who meet the eligibility criteria are still required to pay 25 percent of the medical costs themselves, which many cannot do because they have limited resources and there is very little work available for refugees in Lebanon.

A growing number of Syrians who need treatment are falling deeper into debt and some have to choose between paying for medical care, rent or food, Amnesty said.

One Syrian refugee interviewed by Amnesty said she goes back to Syria twice a week for kidney dialysis because she can’t afford treatment in Lebanon.

“I feel afraid to go to Syria, but I have no choice”, she said.

“Both the UN and refugees are facing agonizing choices”, Audrey Gaughran, director of global thematic issues at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

“The UNHCR and its partners are prioritising primary health care and treatment for life-threatening emergencies. Such prioritisation is vital… “

Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases have been the major health risks for refugees over the last two years, according to Coutts. They have gone untreated because of the high cost of medical care in Lebanon.

The Syrian conflict, now in its fourth year, has driven at least 6.5 million people from their homes. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Jordan, Turkey and other countries, but the largest concentration of Syrian refugees is in Lebanon, where they make up one fifth of the population.

The United Nations has warned that such a large influx of refugees was posing a serious threat to the already fragile country.

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