Even before the dust had settled across Beirut on the evening of August 4, UNICEF and its local partners were already gearing themselves up for what would prove to be the country’s widest-ranging humanitarian response of recent times. Now, in close coordination with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), UNICEF – also in partnership with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) – have launched an innovative and comprehensive public healthcare programme. The package of services – delivered as part of a long-term primary healthcare subsidization protocol (LPSP) – was initiated by the MoPH in the heart of one of the city’s hardest hit areas – Karantina.

The two explosions that ripped through the port area of Lebanon’s capital left 220 dead. A further 6,000 people, including 1,000 children, were injured. Vital infrastructure was destroyed, and thousands of homes left uninhabitable. One of the hardest hit areas – on very much on the front-line of the explosions – was Karantina, a residential area on the edge of the port and home to many of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Its hospital, public healthcare centre (PHC), and the national drug warehouse were all destroyed. Amongst the first into the area was International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) who set about rebuilding Karantina’s PHC, and UNICEF, who facilitated the removal of medical drugs from the warehouse to safe storage.

As part of their ongoing focus on rehabilitating Beirut’s city and its people, IOCC and UNICEF – in coordination with MOPH – have launched a ground-breaking subsidized medical care services programme for Karantina’s residents.

Under the direction of the Ministry of Public Health, in cooperation with IOCC, with the support and partnership of UNICEF, and through the funding of the Government of Japan, at the beginning of February, Karantina PHC opened its doors to local residents with an invitation for subsidized medical examination and treatment.

An area already socially challenged by the effects of high unemployment and the effects of businesses of the coronavirus pandemic, this programme makes access to healthcare easy and accessible. A nominal sum of LBP3,000 (equivalent to just $0.25 at prevailing ‘black market’ exchange rates) is requested of patients, making this the lowest cost healthcare programme available.

For many, its effect has been profound.

A baby being vaccinated
Children vaccination campaign

“I am delighted that I found a place where I can get treatment and I am feeling better already”

“I cannot afford to seek medical treatment at all. At last, I am delighted that I found a place where I can get treatment and I am feeling better already”, said a 56-year-old Lebanese woman, who received essential orthopaedic consultations, and had MRI and CT scans for her pelvis. Her condition is improving as she is receiving the correct treatment for her walking abnormality and is following up with her doctor at the Karantina PHC.

According to the hospital director Karen Saqr, the minimal donation goes towards covering hospital funding, and its introduction was made at the request of the programme’s funders to make the patient feel the value of participating in acknowledging the cost of treatment.

Services covered include a medical examination within the specialties of public health, children’s health, gynaecological diseases and surgery, heart disease, diabetes, kidney, gastrointestinal, ear, nose and throat, dermatological diseases, as well as general and orthopaedic surgery.

In addition to covering laboratory tests (except for those not available in the hospital), sonography, electrocardiograms and arteriography, and x-rays including scans, mammography, echography, and MRI are covered under the programme.

Welcoming up to 35 patients a day, and working under COVID-19 restrictions, each is assessed by a social worker and their file passed to IOCC for approval. To date, they have refused no requests.

“I am delighted to have been able to check on my baby through UNICEF’s programme”

A 35-year-old woman who spoke to us following a free pregnancy ultrasound scan at the Karantina PHC, said: “Trying to find enough money to cover my expenses is not easy in today’s Lebanon. I am delighted to have been able to check on my baby through UNICEF’s programme. I thank God that someone is thinking of us and helping us”.

With access to essential healthcare that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive, the lives of many other local residents are also already improved.

“The treatment I got through this PHC completely changed my life for the better”

“I wasn’t able to get treated elsewhere because I couldn’t afford it. The treatment I got through this PHC completely changed my life for the better”, said a 42-year-old Lebanese male patient, who received medical services from a urologist and psychological support from a psychologist at Karantina PHC.

Appointments are given according to the schedule of days available for each specialist. The doctors who visit Karantina PHC are themselves practicing in some of the largest private hospitals in Lebanon.

Uptake of the programme’s services is increasing as word spreads within the community, and news is shared across social media. All residents of Karantina are welcome – regardless of nationality or economic status.

“The team at the PHC was very kind and welcoming”

“I thought that I would feel unwelcome, or I will have to wait a long time to see a doctor because I am poor. But on the contrary, the team at the PHC was very kind and welcoming”, said a woman who received services from Karantina PHC.

Together, the Ministry of Public Health, IOCC and UNICEF will continue the programme at Karantina through to the end of 2021, reaffirming their commitment to providing continuous and increased support vital to help children and families affected by Beirut explosions.

Those wishing to benefit from this subsidized health service should call the following numbers during working hours Monday to Friday: 01 / 442105-110-111