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18-month-old Bayan had severe dehydration and diarrhoea, and a high fever. She was admitted to the paediatric ward MSF runs in the Elias Hraoui governmental hospital in Zahle, Bekaa Valley, in eastern Lebanon. Her parents decided to consult a doctor after she had been lethargic, barely eating and unable to keep anything down for almost a week.
“The doctor recommended that we take her to hospital when her condition became critical,” Bayan’s mother said. “We couldn’t afford to go to a private hospital; we live in a refugee camp and my husband’s salary from his irregular work is not even enough for us to afford food. We had no idea what to do and were worried about our daughter, until we were guided to the WAHA [Women and Health Alliance] clinic in Zahle. From there, we were referred to the Elias Hraoui hospital.”
MSF opened a paediatric ward in the hospital in March 2017 to provide specialised care to vulnerable children of all nationalities free of charge. A year later, the 28-bed ward provides comprehensive inpatient services, including elective surgery, for children aged between 28 days and 15 years old.
Ensuring healthcare is accessible to those who need it most
“Bekaa Valley is one of the regions of Lebanon where the need is greatest. It hosts around 500,000 Syrian refugees, one third of Lebanon’s Syrian refugee population, and most of them are women and children,” says Audrey Landmann, MSF’s head of mission in Lebanon. “There is limited access to secondary and tertiary healthcare, and what does exist is private and very costly, so the most vulnerable Lebanese and refugee communities cannot afford it. Through our programme in Zahle, we try to fill the gap and provide specialised services free of charge, including surgery and intensive care, ensuring that treatment is accessible to those communities in greatest need of them.”
The story of Rakad, from Syria, is another case in point. Her daughter, Amara, had suffered with respiratory problems since birth, and her frequent admissions to hospital had left her parents in heavy debt. “I’m very grateful for the free services provided by MSF,” Rakad says. “Without them, I would have had to borrow money from relatives again to get my daughter the treatment she needs.”
Sustainable paediatric care
As well as inpatient services at the Elias Hraoui hospital, MSF’s paediatric programme in Zahle provides specialised outpatient services in partnership with the Women and Health Alliance. The programme aims to maintain sustainable paediatric care, especially for children suffering from complications caused by chronic diseases or acute conditions, medical or surgical.
In the programme’s first year, MSF conducted more than 2,500 emergency consultations and admitted 975 children, including 35 to the intensive care unit that opened late December 2017. The team performed 67 surgical operations between October 2017 and March 2018.