Refugees

Public health campaign targets Bekaa Valley

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Medair works in seven Social Development Centres near informal refugee settlements in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley to deliver health interventions and messages through community volunteers and local organisations. [Photo courtesy of Medair]

Medair works in seven Social Development Centres near informal refugee settlements in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley to deliver health interventions and messages through community volunteers and local organisations. [Photo courtesy of Medair]

A new campaign aimed at improving access to high-quality and safe reproductive and psychological health services is being offered to Syrian refugees and Lebanese nationals in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

Swiss-based Medair, in co-operation with UK-based Tearfund and Jordan-based Arab Centre for Consulting and Training Services, kicked off the "Healthy Family, Peaceful House" campaign March 21st at al-Marj clinic in the Bekaa Valley.

Funding for the project comes from the EU's Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis (EU Madad).

Since 2014, the EU has financed health projects in Lebanon totaling 165 million euros ($203 million) to meet the basic health needs of disadvantaged Lebanese nationals and Syrian refugees, the EU delegation to Lebanon said.

This Syrian refugee in al-Marj area in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley has benefited from a public health campaign by Medair, aimed at improving access to high-quality and safe reproductive and psychological health services. [Photo courtesy of Medair]

This Syrian refugee in al-Marj area in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley has benefited from a public health campaign by Medair, aimed at improving access to high-quality and safe reproductive and psychological health services. [Photo courtesy of Medair]

The EU also has begun "testing a core range of primary health care services, including mother and child care services and reproductive and mental health services for all disadvantaged segments of the population", the delegation said.

Improved access to services

The project seeks to improve access to reproductive health and psychological support services for those in disadvantaged communities through two programmes, said Medair communications officer George Mghames.

One is being implemented at the community level, and the other at the clinic level, he told Al-Mashareq.

"At the community level, Medair has developed a package of interventions and messages called 'Healthy Family, Peaceful Home'," he said.

Among the topics addressed are reproductive health, early marriage, family planning, breastfeeding, infant nutrition and neonatal care, he added.

"These messages are provided by community health volunteers or [designated] individuals in the local communities," he said, noting that volunteers also conduct home visits, workshops, focus group discussions and other activities.

Medair also offers "traditional humanitarian relief services", he said.

Outreach to 9,700 families

After receiving training, 27 health volunteers, most of them Syrian refugees, will reach out to 9,700 targeted families to "deliver key health messages that show the benefits of adhering to health standards", Mghames said.

Medair has brought in 10 community organisations to help with the first phase of the project, with the aim of later forming a group of 100 care volunteers whose mission would be to conduct awareness-raising visits to nearby homes, he said.

The goal is to eventually target 800 Syrian refugee and Lebanese families a month, Mghames said.

On the clinic level, "the project provides reproductive health care at seven Social Development Centres and offers a wide variety of options in modern family planning", he said.

This includes the use of essential and Ministry of Health-subsidised medical supplies, and provides consultation on family planning and routine pre- and postnatal care for women, he added.

Focus on reproductive health

The project seeks to provide access to high-quality health care services to as many vulnerable Syrian refugees and Lebanese citizens as possible in al-Marj and its surrounding areas, said Medair Health Project Manager Dr. Wael Harb.

Reproductive health and psychosocial support are a particular focus, he told Al-Mashareq, with special cases being referred to specialists. Another goal is raising awareness about early marriage and domestic violence.

"The project also is implemented outside the clinic, through Syrian volunteers who are working to educate their compatriots on the importance of reproductive health, vaccination, psychosocial support and hygiene," Harb said.

"Volunteers visit families in the camps once a week and give them at least five health awareness messages that benefit them," he said.

Understanding family health

Syrian refugee Yahya Qassem, 48, of al-Sabkha district in al-Raqa province, told Al-Mashareq he has benefited from the health awareness campaigns.

"I have become aware of the importance of family planning," said Qassem, who has been living with his family of 11 in Hawsh al-Harima since 2014.

This includes the spacing of childbearing, Qassem said, adding that he "learned the methods of family planning through contraception after having been ignorant of most of them".

"I know the risks of marriage before the age of 18 to the health of women and children and [the ensuing] financial and social burdens, and I now regularly vaccinate my children because I understand the importance," he said.

Qassem said he plans to share what he has learned about health and family issues with others in his family and community.

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