Over 4.5 million people have fled from Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011. Contrary to the stories we hear in the press, not all refugees flee to Europe. As a member of the HelpAge network, we are supporting our partner HelpAge Germany's work to help older people in Lebanon get the health care and psychological support that they so desperately need.
Right now, approximately 17% of the people living in Lebanon are refugees from Syria - putting an unimaginable strain on the country and its already fragile resources. Thousands of these people are older - too frail to make the difficult and dangerous journey to Europe.
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According to research from our partners on the ground, 65% of older refugees in Lebanon and Jordan reported suffering from psychological distress. 54% of older refugees in Lebanon have a chronic health condition - like diabetes or heart disease.
These older refugees desperately need medicines and specialist care. But the healthcare system is struggling to cope. Demand for services is high - and older refugees often come bottom of the list for overstretched clinics.
Our partner HelpAge Germany is supporting Syrian refugees in Lebanon - as well as vulnerable older Lebanese people themselves - by:
- Providing health checks and follow-ups for older people with chronic conditions
- Running clinics and mobile medical units, which can reach patients who are immobile or living in remote locations
- Helping isolated older people to recover from trauma by providing group counselling sessions
- Running social events to reduce stress and build support networks between older individuals
- Organising exercise and activity sessions to help treat depression and anxiety, and improve health and mobility
- Training doctors and humanitarian workers so that they know how to deal with chronic diseases – and helping to equip health care centres with tools to screen for diabetes and hypertension.
Any donations made to our Syria Appeal will go towards supporting the HelpAge Germany programme in Lebanon.
'I left everything'
Fteim was separated from half of her family when she fled Syria. Recalling it now, she bursts into tears: "I left everything, just took some clothes with me.”
She suffers from diabetes and, since fleeing her home, has developed hypertension too. But paying for treatment is a constant worry.
"Rent fees are too high here and salaries are low,” she explains. “Admad, my 24-year-old son, works from 7am until 12pm. I have to pay for pain killers because I suffer from tissue calcification but I could not pay for the MRI test to find out if surgery was necessary."
We are helping Fteim to manage her chronic conditions with free medication and regular check-ups. We also helped her to see a cardiologist and receive lab tests for free.
“I used to have difficulties moving around but now, with the help I received, I am able to walk and be more active.”
'Life is hard and needs a lot of hard work'
Afif al Hanoun is Lebanese. Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, prices have gone up and wages have gone down in Lebanon, making life harder for all concerned.
“I’m still working as a tailor six days a week,” says the 62-year old. “Life is hard and needs a lot of hard work. I am the only one earning an income in the family.”
The father of three suffers from diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. We provided free healthcare to help Afif to mange his chronic conditions. “You changed my life for the better,” he explains “Now I can go for the check-ups I need without being afraid of the costs”.
'Nothing would make me as happy as home'
Like hundreds of thousands of refugees in Lebanon, Badreya has money worries. “I depend on my two boys. Most of the money we have goes into the bedrooms that we rent and the food that we buy.”
And like thousands of older refugees, she too suffers from chronic conditions that urgently require treatment: hypertension and diabetes. We are helping her to get medication and tests.
Badreya feels much safer in Lebanon but, as she says, “nothing would make me as happy as home.”
The healthcare needs of older Syrian refugees
“Lebanon has a fragmented and uncoordinated healthcare system, which has struggled to cope with the health needs of the newcomers. The healthcare system is highly privatised, which raises huge problems for refugees, and particularly older refugees with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension. A range of issues, such as less opportunity to earn an income, restrict their access to healthcare.”
- Emanula Rizzo, Regional Programme Manager, HelpAge International
Chronic diseases are one of the leading causes of death in Lebanon, and the health journal The Lancet has described their emergence as a “crisis” in the Arab world.
- 54% of older refugees in Lebanon and Jordan have a chronic health condition.
- Chronic conditions are responsible for 85% of all deaths among people aged 60 and over, worldwide.
- 77% of older refugees report specific health needs, ranging from medication to psychosocial support
In Lebanon, help to fight chronic diseases is severely lacking; there is no health education for patients; health staff are overworked and under-trained; facilities are not age-friendly; there is no early screening, no proper monitoring and no follow up. At best, patients might receive a monthly prescription but they have to pay for this themselves.
A history of our work with older Syrian refugees
When we first launched the Syria Refugee Appeal, we supported older refugees and their families with cash transfers to help them get the essential items that they most needed - from buying food, to paying rent.
We also worked closely with other aid organisations to make sure that the aid they were delivering was suitable and accessible for older people. In Za'atari camp, for example, we helped to make sure that there were hand rails in the toilets and 'safe-spaces' for older people to congregate in.
To date we have:
- Provided medical consultations to 2,470 patients on a regular basis, as well as drugs and laboratory tests to help them manage chronic conditions
- Seen 2,467 people attend health education sessions on diabetes, hypertension and healthy nutritional habits
- Held social events for 471 older people, including meals to ensure nutrition levels are maintained and cooking classes for 642 beneficiaries
- Trained 340 public health staff and humanitarian agency staff, on older people's healthcare needs
- Conducted vital research into the situation of older and disabled Syrian refugees
With thanks to HelpAge Germany and the German government’s development agency BMZ for helping to fund this programme.
We've produced a full breakdown and evaluation of our programme to help Syrian refugees. Read it here.
See our report (opens in a new window)