WHO and partners assess health facilities across Lebanon
18 August 2006 | Geneva - As thousands of people in Lebanon return to their homes this week, the World Health Organization is working to assess the damage to health facilities and the impact of the crisis on the delivery of health services in the country. WHO stresses that access to health for all - including those who are still displaced within the country - is critical.
"Access to health care is essential for people who are internally displaced, and for those who have returned to their communities," said Dr Ala Alwan, WHO Representative for Health Action in Crises. "We must work quickly to assess the damage, and to restart the health systems so that care is available for everyone who needs it."
Priorities include: care for newborns and their mothers; for children including vaccination; treatment and care for people suffering from chronic conditions; psychosocial counseling and continued care for people who were wounded. Dr Alwan is in Lebanon for the second time in three weeks, together with Dr Hussein A. Gezairy, Regional Director for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region.
800 health facilities will be assessed
During the conflict, communities and infrastructure were damaged, severely in some places. So far, it has been confirmed that one health facility in Baalbek was completely destroyed while several others are reportedly functioning at only 40% capacity. Due to lack of electricity, hospitals had to rely on generators, and by last week, fuel supplies were running perilously low. In some places health workers may not have been able to come to work - and may still have trouble traveling. Some health facilities ran low on essential stocks and supplies including medicines.
To get a complete picture of the situation, WHO will work with the Lebanese Ministry of Health and the American University of Beirut over the next four days to assess some 800 health facilities. Fifty volunteer public health students and family doctors will tour the country. They will assess the physical damage, determine if doctors and nurses are available and reporting to work and if there are urgent supplies required. They can also determine whether people who were internally displaced are still using health facilities for shelter. Results of these assessments will be ready early next week.
WHO has already helped to address the fuel shortages. This week, WHO delivered 67 tonnes of fuel which is being distributed to 18 hospitals in Tyre, Saida, Sarafande and Nabatiye. This will enable them to function for at least 10 days.
WHO has also reinforced its presence by opening two sub-offices in Saida and Tyre.
Mental health, breastfeeding a concern
WHO is concerned about people's mental health. After a month of heavy and continuous stress, people will be subject to intense post- trauma distress. WHO will work with several partners and the Ministry of Health to address the mental health needs and put psychosocial support programmes in place.
WHO is also promoting breastfeeding for infants under six months of age. This is a standard WHO recommendation - and is particularly important now in order to reduce the risk of infants contracting water-borne diseases, given that water may not be potable.
WHO is coordinating the health sector response in Lebanon, and is requesting a total of US$32.4 million on behalf of all UN partners working in health ( UNICEF,UNRWA, and UNFPA) as part of the UN Flash Appeal launched last month. So far, just 19 % of the funds needed have been pledged. Given the ceasefire, revision of the initial UN flash appeal is being prepared to take into account the new humanitarian priorities and to introduce early recovery components. WHO is actively contributing to this revision which will be ready next week. In addition, WHO has initiated collaboration with the Ministry of Health for the preparation of a national reconstruction plan for the health sector to adress the medium and long term needs.
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