BEIRUT: Running short on financial aid, Lebanese hospitals are no longer able to cope with the rising number of refugees in Lebanon, the head of the Association of Private Hospitals told The Daily Star.
“Frankly, and this is the truth: Lebanese hospitals are unable to treat more refugees,” Suleiman Haroun said.
Haroun added that private hospitals were running short on financial assistance to cover hospitalization costs of Syrian refugees residing in the country.
The case is no better in public hospitals, according to Haroun. “They [public hospitals] already had issues receiving Lebanese patients.”
“There is a real humanitarian crisis, we can no longer receive refugees and they do not know what to do,” he said.
While there are over 700,000 refugees registered in Lebanon, the figure is likely to be significantly higher as many families are choosing not to register with the U.N. refugee agency. Beirut says at least 1 million are residing in the country, with hundreds more crossing over each week.
Lebanon has repeatedly complained that it can no longer cope with the influx of refugees and appealed to other Arab countries and the international community for help.
For his part, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour admitted there was a major health crisis affecting Syrian refugees, with no viable solution in the foreseeable future.
“The medical situation of refugees is terrible and the crisis is expected to continue since there don’t seem to be any breakthroughs within the international community” in terms of funding, he said.
Haroun described the contribution made by international organizations, mainly the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as “insignificant.”
He said that the international community, and not local hospitals, was responsible for the situation. “Hospitals are not to blame for their decision not to receive more refugees; the real problem is that the international community has abandoned its responsibility toward the Syrian people and we cannot take up such burden.”
“Let the countries providing arms for Syrians to kill each other establish an endowment to treat and help the victims of this war,” he added.
Joelle Eid, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the agency was providing medical assistance to Syrian refugees but also complained that funds were running short.
“We are basically trying to deal with life-saving cases and births, but our budget is low and it does not allow us to do more,” she said.
Also from the UNHCR, Dana Sleiman noted that the agency was forced to scale back its health program for refugees from 85 percent to 75 percent of the full cost of treatment.
“We had to make very difficult decisions in this regard. The bad news is not only that we cut off the percentage of aid but that we could no longer cover medical care costs for all registered refugees,” she said. “We are now choosing emergency cases, mostly women and children and the elderly.”
According to Haroun, with the expectation that the number of refugees in Lebanon will surpass 1.5 million by the end of the year, millions of dollars are needed to provide refugees with adequate health care.
“If we reach 1.5 million refugees in the country, $800 million will be needed to provide them with the appropriate medical treatment and care. Who is going to pay this money?” he said.
Abu Faour said Lebanon was trying to anticipate the next steps for dealing with a possible influx of refugees in light of a possible strike from the United States against Syria.
President Michel Sleiman chaired a ministerial meeting to address the possible increase of refugees if there are strikes against Syria.
“An agreement was reached to cooperate with the United Nations, humanitarian organizations and agencies to confront the anticipated challenges,” Abu Faour said.
He said Lebanese authorities were also strategizing about how to deal with the issue, but added that the measures hinged on “how big the strike against Syria will be.”
The Syria crisis is expected to escalate as the United States is deliberating a military operation. The strike comes in response to an alleged chemical attack perpetrated by the Syrian government against civilians, killing hundreds, including women and children.