Children in Lebanon and Syria in dire need of mental health services
August 11, 2006—International Medical Corps’ mobile medical teams are seeing increasing signs of emotional stress among displaced children, including noticeable changes in behavior, heightened levels of fighting, and the development of phobias as they cope with the harsh reality of their new, itinerant lives.
Many children are expressing fear about having to repeatedly move to new and unfamiliar locations. At a school in Damascus where 187 families are taking refuge, an IMC doctor, found four-year-old Hassan wandering around, wearing his father’s shoes. Hassan was feverish and confused. He didn’t understand why his family was sleeping in a school corridor and why his father’s shoes are his only toys.
The doctor followed Hassan back to his family and found them lying on mattresses; Hassan’s younger brother was ill. The IMC doctor treated Hassan for an acute upper respiratory tract infection and gave him medicine. His younger brother was treated as well.
Another child at the school, seven-year-old Hadi, suffers from sickle cell anemia and when he was examined by IMC medical staff, they discovered that his liver and spleen were enlarged and his eyes were swollen. IMC was able to give him critical, yet expensive, medication that his family could not afford. They also screened his younger brothers for the disease.
"He can’t play with the children because of his illness, so he just sits silently for long periods of time, watching the other kids play football," said the school supervisor.
Despite Hadi’s illness and the confusion and emotional stress of leaving his home, his friends and his country, his father remains optimistic.
“When Hadi smiles, you can see that he is hopeful,” said his father. “He believes that someday he can be normal and play with the others. He always wakes up early, to bring us bread from the food distributors. Despite his crippling disease, he acts like the man of the family."
Indeed, some children have taken on the role of provider and have become preoccupied with the distribution of supplies. This has brought on increased incidents of violence and quarrelling, with conflicts about food, water and clothing among children standing in distribution lines.
Often in the wake of civil conflict and natural disasters, the mental health needs of victims are largely ignored. IMC, which has been implementing psychosocial programs in complex emergencies since 1993, will be implementing psychosocial and clinical mental health programs in Lebanon and Syria in the next few weeks.
International Medical Corps delivering relief, despite gasoline shortages and destruction of supply routes for food and medicines
August 7, 2006—Bridges connecting Beirut to southern cities including Tyre have been destroyed, making it increasingly difficult for International Medical Corps and other relief organizations to deliver much-needed supplies to displaced people in the south. Gasoline is also in short supply, which has severely hampered humanitarian operations. IMC staff in Cyprus is currently investigating ways to transport food and medical supplies to Beirut.Despite dwindling gas supplies a new IMC mobile medical unit is traveling to schools and camps in Syria, providing health care to refugees. IMC’s medical team operating in Damascus will cover several camps and schools around the city. Among those treated was an eight-year-old boy with sickle-cell anemia whose medication was not readily available. IMC is also monitoring a woman who is five months pregnant and has been experiencing complications. Many chronic illnesses including diabetes, seizure disorders and hypertension are still going untreated.In addition to the growing health crisis, parents who have fled to Syria have expressed concern about their children’s education as the new school year is scheduled to start in a few weeks. With different education systems in Lebanon and Syria, government officials are uncertain how to handle the situation. Approximately 180,000 displaced people are living in Syria, some 67,000 in public sites including schools and camps.IMC continues to conduct assessments to identify the needs of large groups of displaced people, including those in Chouf and Choueifat, near Beirut.According to government officials, more than 900 people have been killed in Lebanon and nearly 3,500 injured. An estimated 915,762 people, a quarter of Lebanon's population, have fled their homes. Approximately 565,000 displaced persons are staying with relatives and friends and 130,762 are located in 761 schools and public institutions throughout the country.
International Medical Corps provides life-saving medical care to displaced families on Lebanon/Syria border
August 3, 2006—International Medical Corps continues to provide critical medical care to an increasing number of displaced people on the Lebanon/Syria border. For one family, IMC’s medical assistance was the difference between life and death.
Seventy-year-old Ahmed and his family have been stuck at the border for more than one week. Ahmed suffered a stroke and lost his ability to speak. Ahmed and his 15-year-old daughter, Saher, who suffers from mental retardation, a congenital chromosomal abnormality, and diabetes, did not have access to their medication. Before IMC reached the family, Ahmed was relying on his wife, who suffers from severe osteoarthritis and high blood pressure, to take care of them.
"We lost our house, and now have no country that will take us in. And here I am nursing my helpless husband and daughter,” said Ahmed’s wife. “We just want a place where we can sleep and a peace of mind. Is that too much to ask?" When IMC’s medical team reached the family, they found that Ahmed and Saher both had very high blood glucose levels as well as lung and skin infections. IMC immediately gave them life-saving diabetic medication and other medicine for Ahmed’s wife. Though still without a home, Ahmed’s family is recovering and IMC’s internal medicine physician continues to give them daily checkups.
An estimated 160,000 Lebanese refugees are in Syria; 24,000 are living in schools, mosques and city buildings. IMC has established a mobile medical unit in rural areas of Damascus and medical teams have examined patients at the Syria/Lebanon border. The medical team has been providing refugees with medication, health care and clothing.
IMC continues to provide medical supplies to Hiram Hospital and three medical clinics in Tyre as well as hygiene materials, baby formula and other essential supplies to people living in eight schools, community centers and mosques outside of Beirut. IMC is also conducting assessments in eastern Beirut to determine the needs of displaced people.
Current estimates indicate close to 900 civilians have been killed and 3,000 injured in Lebanon since the conflict began on July 12th.
International Medical Corps delivers essential supplies to displaced people in isolated community north of Beirut
August 1, 2006—International Medical Corps delivered mattresses, pillows, rice other essential supplies to an isolated community where thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) have found refuge from the escalating conflict.“There are probably thousands of IDPs up in the hills, while all of the primary health care clinics are on the coast,” says Dr. Jeff Goodman, a doctor who is part of IMC’s emergency response team in Lebanon."When you look at them they are lost, they don't know what to do. You are their hope," says Lamar Chouchir. She and her family have been working with IMC to identify the needs of displaced families in Byblos, north of Beirut. The Chouchir family has taken more than 50 people into their home and adjoining apartments, which they usually rent to college students. They have been surveying people who are staying at schools and public buildings, and with other families in the area. “There are pregnant women who are close to giving birth who have no clothes, nothing for the baby,” says Lamar. "I couldn't promise them, but in my heart I want to help."IMC brought essential supplies such as mattresses, pillows, shampoo, soap, slippers, cooking oil, rice and sugar and is working on setting up a clinic in the Chouchir home to service area IDPs.IMC is also working with the Ministry of Social Affairs and American University of Beirut to help put together health pamphlets to educate displaced people about issues including water supply and purification, food handling, hygiene, hand washing and sanitation, and communicable diseases. According to the World Health Organization, there has been an outbreak of diarrheal disease in the region.IMC continues to supply three clinics in Tyre, where the most intense fighting has taken place. Bridges connecting Beirut to southern cities including Tyre and Sidon have been destroyed, making it difficult for IMC and other non-governmental organizations to deliver much-needed supplies to displaced people in the south. Medical supplies and drugs are in short supply at hospitals in Tyre. Refugees living in four camps in Tyre are in need of potable water and food. Hygiene kits, clean delivery kits, basic emergency health kits, mattresses, plastic sheets, and kitchen items are also in great demand. IMC’s doctors operating mobile clinics along the Syria-Lebanon border have treated people for acute cardiovascular complications, dehydration, mild burns, skin and eye infections, shell injuries, diarrheal disease and other communicable diseases.
International Medical Corps responding to growing mental health crisis in Lebanon and Syria
July 28, 2006 – International Medical Corps doctors report that a growing number of civilians in Lebanon and Syria are suffering from psychosocial stress, shock and grief as a result of the ongoing conflict in the region. In response to this serious problem, IMC staff, including two mental health specialists, are in Amman, Jordan laying the framework for a comprehensive mental health initiative to treat people.
An IMC mental health advisor will be dispatched to Lebanon in coming weeks to implement mental health initiatives. Psychosocial programs will begin immediately in the Beirut area.
Thousands of people in the region are suffering from emotional trauma. Many have lost multiple family members and friends. In addition to dealing with their losses, they must also endure the physical dangers and lack of resources. IMC recognizes the immediate need for the development of a mental health strategy with a long-term plan for psychosocial intervention including recovery programs and livelihood support.
Often in the wake of civil conflict and natural disasters, the mental health needs of those affected are largely ignored. Since 1993, IMC has been implementing psychosocial programs to address the needs of victims of natural and man-made disasters. Most recently, IMC has responded to the mental health needs of displaced people in Darfur and Chad, victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami and Pakistan earthquake.