Why getting medical care in Lebanon is harder than escaping Syria (VIDEO)


Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series looking at one of 2013's most undercovered stories: the effect of Syria's war on its fragile neighbor Lebanon. More than a million struggling Syrian refugees have fled there, swelling the country's population by 25 percent. This humanitarian crisis threatens to overwhelm a country trying to maintain peace after its own civil conflict.

See the first installment.

TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Former Syrian opposition fighter Abu Yami endured much to get to Lebanon: the siege of his city of Homs. Shrapnel tearing through his body. Crawling wounded through a thousand-foot sewer pipe to avoid army checkpoints. Surgery in a field hospital. Transport through the frozen mountains of western Syria. Infection and amputation of his arm.

The hardest part was still to come.

Days after the amputation, Yami began working as a patient relations officer at Al Zahra hospital in Tripoli, Lebanon, where even the horrors of his past couldn’t prepare him for the difficulties facing Lebanese hospitals.

In the nearly three years since the war in Syria began, health-care workers across Lebanon have been overrun by waves of sick refugees. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children living in squalid refugee camps have placed a weight on a system ill prepared for the influx. Now, doctors and administrators struggle to treat their new patients, allocating money and medicine that are both in short supply.

“They’re refugees. Of course they get sick and need help,” said Hasan Ghadban, a doctor at Amel Health Center in El Ein village in the Bekaa Valley. “Lebanon is a small country and can’t support a large number of refugees. A small country needs to breathe.”

The number of patients that pass through the doors of the clinic where Ghadban works has tripled since May of last year. The number of families in the surrounding village has increased by 1,400 percent, according to the director of the health center.

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