Health

Millions in US aid seen as key factor in stemming spread of COVID-19 in Lebanon

By Nohad Topalian

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A medic administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a youth in Lebanon. The Lebanese American University (LAU) Medical Centre has been conducting a vaccine campaign for those who live in remote areas with support from the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative. [LAU]

BEIRUT -- Funds provided by the United States to help Lebanon battle COVID-19 have significantly contributed to stemming the spread of the virus and making polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and vaccines available to the Lebanese people and to Syrian refugees.

The vital US support arrived as Lebanon was mired in one of the severest economic crises in its history, which affected its own ability to respond, Lebanese officials and medics told Al-Mashareq.

US assistance provided to Lebanon to address the coronavirus pandemic exceeded $25 million in 2020, $12 million of which came in March 2020, with a $13.3 million package following in April to stem the spread of the virus.

The second round of assistance included $5.3 million allocated by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance.

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A team from the LAU Medical Centre takes part in a campaign to conduct PCR tests in the five governorates of Lebanon via a mobile clinic. [LAU]

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The LAU Medical Centre received funding for its mobile campaign to conduct PCR tests and administer COVID-19 vaccines from the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative. [LAU]

This went towards COVID-19 prevention measures, with a focus on the country's most disadvantaged people, and included support for private health facilities, ensuring the continuity of basic health services.

Of the $13.3 million package, $8 million was provided by the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

These funds went to support efforts to reduce the spread of the virus and to help refugees and Lebanese host communities in need.

"The US government is helping to impact people's lives, by helping people on an individual and a societal basis to confront this pandemic," US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea said at the time.

"We have been pivoting some of our existing assistance programmes to make sure that they are being as responsive as possible to the needs on the ground."

"We have also been drawing on additional resources from Washington, tailoring that assistance with our trusted partners in Lebanon to help meet emerging needs," she said.

In August of this year, the United States pledged nearly $100 million in new humanitarian assistance for Lebanon.

Of that amount, $41 million went to USAID to provide urgently needed food assistance, health care, protection, and water and sanitation support to communities, including those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Timely US contribution

"Thanks to the generous support of the US government, UNHCR has been able to fulfill its duties towards the Syrian refugees in Lebanon," UNHCR spokeswoman Lisa Abu Khaled told Al-Mashareq.

The US contribution "arrived on time, and at a time when Lebanon is experiencing a severe deterioration in its economic and social conditions, which exacerbated the spread of the virus", she said.

It has "helped UNHCR ease the burden on refugees who are struggling to survive", she added.

"It also contributed to providing health protection for the most vulnerable refugees, including single mothers, children, the elderly and people with special needs who have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis," she said.

The US contribution supports UNHCR's efforts to reach refugees and host communities to conduct tests and provide treatments and vaccines, she said, and has had "a significant positive impact on the lives of refugees in Lebanon".

A US-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) grant has helped the Lebanese American University (LAU) mobile clinic and medical team continue its work, said Saad al-Zein, assistant president of LAU for special projects.

"We were consequently able to serve 36 regions and villages in all governorates in Lebanon, especially those that do not receive enough attention, such as the remote and poorest areas," he said.

The grant helped the teams serve about 1,300 residents, he said, noting that an additional round of funding is expected to follow.

Given the difficult circumstances in Lebanon, he said, all forms of support are "crucial and essential to getting through this stage".

Vital aid and development

The villages of Hasbaya district in southern Lebanon, including Rashaya al-Foukhar and Kfarshouba, received a large share of the US aid, which has contributed to the immunisation of these communities against COVID-19.

This region "benefited from the US support allocated to confronting the coronavirus", said deputy mayor of Rashaya al-Foukhar Pierre Atallah.

"It made it possible for the LAU Medical Centre's mobile clinic to conduct PCR tests and subsequently administer the vaccine," he said.

He said the US grants through MEPI and USAID helped strengthen the collective immunity of the populations of those regions, beating the Lebanese Ministry of Health to the punch in terms of caring for the health of citizens.

The grants also contributed to curbing the spread of the virus, he said.

US support from various sources "has been there for many years" in the area and in other parts of the country, he said, "and includes financing and contributing to the implementation of many vital and developmental projects".

Projects include the lighting of streets in a number of villages, he said, and the preparation of plans and studies for local development in Rashaya al-Foukhar.

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