EU extends helping hand on health care
Initiative seeks to assist refugees, Lebanese; includes standardized pricing
BURJ HAMMOUD, Lebanon: A program for reducing out-ofpocket spending on health care for refugees and Lebanese citizens was launched Wednesday by the European Union at a primary care facility in Burj Hammoud.
EU Ambassador to Lebanon Christina Lassen was joined by officials from the Lebanese government and NGOs, as well as health care professionals, at the Howard Karagheusian Medico-Social Center to introduce the program, titled “Reducing economic barriers to accessing health care services in Lebanon.”
“The aim of this new package is to make sure that people in need of health care will receive quality services across the country,” Lassen said.
The initiative is funded by a 32 million euro ($37.7 million) grant from the EU’s Regional Trust Fund and is part of larger package of 70 million euros from the fund to support the Lebanese public health care system. The program seeks to assist both Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as well as Lebanese citizens. The U.N. refugee agency has provided its support, while the International Medical Corps and its partner organizations will work toward the initiative’s implementation.
The program will introduce a flat-fee model of health care pricing, in which medical consultation fees will be subsidized and costs for diagnostic and lab tests will be waived entirely. The organizations hope that standardized pricing for care will have the added benefit of easing tensions between Lebanese and refugee communities.
“From the very beginning, the idea was not to create a parallel structure for the refugees, but on the contrary, to help the state of Lebanon to respond to the crisis through the public services, to reinforce them and to help create more infrastructure,” UNHCR representative Mireille Girard said during a speech at the event. “This is something that will [endure] well after the crisis has finished,” she said.
Caretaker Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani agreed, emphasizing that the ministry is the only official body in Lebanon that can legitimately organize public health.
Cost reduction measures are sorely needed for refugees, according to the 2017 U.N. Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon.
The study found that 76 percent of Syrian refugees are living below the poverty line and 38 percent of their income is spent on health care.
Serop Ohanian, who directs the Karagheusian clinic, said his experience shows the strain on the Lebanese health care sector has increased. “We used to see 500 patients per month in 2005,” Ohanian said. “Now we are seeing 3,500 patients per month and two-thirds of these patients are not Lebanese.”
Dr. Samer Saade, 29, has been a pediatrician at the Karagheusian clinic for three months.
He said more than 80 percent of his patients are Syrian.
“They are abroad, away from their country, in poor conditions, with no materials and no medical services except what we offer,” he said. “They might go back, but some of them have established themselves here so I think some will stay.”
‘The idea was not to create a parallel structure for refugees’
The presence of around 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon due to the conflict has put pressure on the country’s already ailing infrastructure and economy.
A segment of the Lebanese political class has called for Syrian refugees to return to their homeland as soon as possible, while members of the international community have said conditions are not yet conducive for voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity.
However, Lassen noted that “we don’t see this as an indefinite issue, we see this is as something that is time-limited,” when asked if the EU would continue to financially support public health in Lebanon if Syrian refugees were unable to return in the near future.
“Until these people can go back, we need to make sure they are taken care of.”
Ohanian, right, speaks with Hasbani and Lassen. Hasbani says the ministry is the only official body that can legitimately organize Lebanon’s public health.