By Julie Mollins
LONDON (AlertNet) - Medical assistance is at risk for thousands of Syrians fleeing into Lebanon who are living in overcrowded conditions, suffering psychological distress and unable to afford medical care, according to a new survey from charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
At least 60,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon to escape fighting in their country since conflict broke out almost 18 months ago, according to UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.
“Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon are reliant on humanitarian assistance, but this is now coming under threat,” according to the report by MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders.
Refugees are having difficulty gaining access to housing, food, water and sanitation, and nine out of 10 interviewed see their future as highly precarious, it said.
Almost half of 5,000 refugees from 889 families interviewed by MSF were in need of medication to treat such chronic diseases as asthma, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, the survey said, but 18.7 percent are not receiving it.
“So far, the combined support of host communities, the government and humanitarian organizations has averted a major health crisis -- individuals within the Lebanese community have made tremendous efforts to integrate and help the refugees, but financial restraints mean they are reaching the limits of what they can do,” the survey said.
More than 20 percent of those interviewed reported that they needed hospital-level care. Of these, 61.6 percent were able to get to a hospital and 39.2 percent of them were able to receive treatment free of charge, the survey found.
However, 38.4 percent of those who said they needed treatment were unable to access a hospital.
Refugees have a better chance of accessing the care they need in Tripoli, where 88.4 percent of
respondents reported receiving free hospital treatment, as opposed to only 20–25 percent in the Bekaa Valley and in Wadi Khaled.
Of those who were not able to visit a hospital, 65 percent said they were unable to pay for treatment, the survey said.
As living conditions worsen, the international community must provide more funding and the Lebanese government should reinstate medical assistance to refugees that has been cut, the survey said.
MSF expanded its operations in Lebanon in response to the Syria crisis in November 2011. The charity operates in four areas of Lebanon with 60 staff, providing healthcare, psychological care and distributing relief items. MSF also provides medical care to Palestinian, Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition watchdog based in London, says that more than 23,000 people have died in the uprising. About 200,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.
MSF has also been working within Syria for the past two months trying to provide humanitarian assistance to people affected by the conflict. More than 300 patients have been admitted for treatment and surgeons have carried out 150 operations since August 2012, the report said.
(Editing by Lisa Anderson)