Lebanon News

Refugee health concerns raise alarm

New disease statistics show rising health risks.

BEIRUT: United Nations and Lebanese officials sounded the alarm Thursday over increasing diseases and health problems in Syrian refugee areas that the government and U.N. don’t have the resources to deal with as both bodies manage long-term budget shortfalls.

Parliament’s Health Committee warned about the dangers of declining health services for Lebanese and Syrians in areas heavily impacted by refugees, and tried to put together an estimate of what it would take to fix the situation.

“The refugees are present in 1,000 different cities and towns, which makes it difficult for the Health Ministry to control their health problems,” the committee’s chairman MP Atef Majdalani told The Daily Star after the meeting. “But still the ministry is seeking to limit the dangers of such health problems and find a solution to them, especially when it comes to contagious diseases.”

There is renewed alarm in the government of deteriorating conditions in Lebanese areas as well as for refugees. Because there are no centrally administered refugee camps in the country, local host communities, many of which are already poor, are shouldering much of the responsibility for caring for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the war in Syria.

Lebanese families were just added to the country’s official aid strategy after unemployment, poverty and tensions between host communities and Syrians increased to dangerous levels, government officials said.

The parliamentary committee discussed worrying new disease statistics that show rising health risks, including 60 cases of tuberculosis and around 650 cases of the skin disease leishmaniasis as well as smaller numbers of cases of scabies and hepatitis, Majdalani said.

Majdalani said health care would likely cost around $450 a person and that the committee was considering a plan to commission a survey of 5,000 to 10,000 refugees to get a better idea of the health care they need.

Lebanon has little money to alleviate the situation, as the national aid appeal has been almost entirely unfunded by the international community. Most aid has gone to the United Nations, which remains severely underfunded as well.

There are over 450,000 refugees in the country receiving aid from the U.N. while government estimates put the number at closer to 650,000 and growing. Many international promises to help alleviate the crisis have gone unfulfilled, forcing the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to cut back health services last month.

U.N. representative in Lebanon Robert Watkins told caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour that he would try and press the international community to do more in Geneva this week.

Watkins said he would hold meetings with nations that have not followed through on their pledged donations and said he would make a particular appeal to improve health and education conditions and raise awareness about Lebanese who are suffering as well, according to the National News Agency.

Abu Faour also met with UNHCR representative Ninette Kelley in a bi-weekly meeting and discussed particular country refugee issues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 03, 2013, on page 4.




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