Lebanon: Fighting threatens health system already on the brink

10 Jan 2024

Escalating military activity  along Lebanon’s southern border has forced thousands of people to flee border towns and seek refuge further north or in major cities. 

Israeli forces and Hezbollah have exchanged fire across the Israel-Lebanon border since the start of the Israel-Gaza war on 7 October of 2023, but in recent weeks the violence has escalated, with Israeli forces launching heavy bombardments of Lebanon’s southern border region. 

MSF staff member providing medical care

MSF medical mobile team providing medical care to internally displaced people in Nabatiyeh, South Lebanon amid escalation in military activity on the Lebanese southern borders. Lebanon 2023 © Tracy Makhlouf/MSF

Many of the displaced people are in need of essential relief items, while others have run out of their regular medications. In response, international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has deployed a mobile team to help provide the displaced people with healthcare.

"People need mattresses, clothes and medications” says Abbas Chite, from Kfarkila in south Lebanon. “We left everything behind when the bombardment became heavy. We can’t even go back to get our medical prescriptions or clothes." 

Of more than 70,000 people displaced from the south of Lebanon, according to the International Organization of Migration, 1,000 are living in shelters, while the rest are living with host families or in rental housing. Most have lost their source of income. Displaced children are showing signs of psychological distress and anxiety, including heightened fear and sleep disorders, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

A fragile health system buckles under economic crisis

The armed escalation compounds an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and is intensifying people’s existing needs. The country is in its fourth year of a severe economic crisis that has pushed two out of every three citizens into poverty, heavily impacting their ability to afford basic goods and services, including food and health care.  

Abbas used to work in the construction industry, but now there is no work available, leaving him unable to earn a living and support his family. "I work in construction, but everything has stopped since the beginning of the [economic] crisis," he said. 

How MSF is supporting health care and emergency response

To ensure that displaced people have continuous access to health care, MSF has deployed a mobile medical team to support two health centers in Nabatieh district, south Lebanon, by providing care for patients with chronic diseases and psychological first aid.  

"When people are displaced, they are forced to leave their homes abruptly, interrupting their treatment, especially those with chronic diseases."

Dr. Aida Hassouni
MSF mobile team member

Lebanon’s health care system, like other sectors in the country, was already overburdened by the economic crisis.

Many health care workers have emigrated since the start of the crisis, and medical facilities are working with limited resources. Local health centers, which are already at capacity, could face increasing pressure as they contend with the growing medical needs of people displaced from the south.

"When people are displaced, they are forced to leave their homes abruptly, interrupting their treatment, especially for those with chronic diseases,” says MSF mobile team member Dr Aida Hassouni. “With uncertainty about when they can return, we're here to bridge that gap by offering chronic disease care. This ensures that individuals can continue their treatment until they can resume their regular lives."

Since October, MSF teams have pre-positioned ten tonnes of medical supplies in various hospitals and medical facilities in Lebanon. The teams have also provided training to hospital staff across Lebanon in emergency trauma care and the management of mass casualty events, in accordance with the Ministry of Public Health’s emergency preparedness and response plan and in collaboration with other health partners. 

More than one hundred medical personnel were trained in nine hospitals over the course of three weeks. 

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