New medical center in Lebanon serves Assyrians impacted by port explosion

By Christina Salem | February 2021 | Photos provided

A new medical center in Lebanon will serve Assyrians living in areas affected by the explosion that rocked Beirut on Aug. 4.

Located in Bauchrieh near the Assyrian church of the east Archdiocese-Assyrian martyrs square, the center opens as the country’s dire economic situation, made increasingly worse by the coronavirus pandemic and last year’s port blast, has completely collapsed Lebanon’s healthcare system and forced citizens to question how to address growing mental health issues.

“Mental health is always something invisible and the majority is not aware of,” said Jack Jendo, spokesperson at the Assyrian Support Committee (ASC). “Assyrians will definitely visit the health center for many services and have to be aware that mental problems have much more of an effect on their health than physical incidents.”

Photo by Assyrian Support Committee

As many as 30,000 Assyrians currently reside in Lebanon, according to the Assyrian Policy Institute. Most are located primarily in Beirut and Zahlé.

From 2014 to 2018, the community was largely supported with their healthcare needs through an ASC agreement with St. George Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Beirut. Under the deal, the hospital would admit all patients for free who presented an ASC ID card. That included doctor visits, laboratory and minor surgeries. For major surgeries, patients could apply to ASC’s medical support program and receive coverage of severe medical cases. 

But today, the situation is much different. A large explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4 rocked Lebanon’s capital, resulting in more than 200 dead and 6,500 injured. St. George Hospital, which faces the port, suffered extensive damage with shattered windows and weakened infrastructure. 

The damage meant long wait times for people requiring medical attention, and the added stresses of the coronavirus pandemic and an already weakened economy caused the total collapse of Lebanon’s medical system. ASC members required a new plan for mental and physical health, an Assyrian in Lebanon told the Journal.

“The center is actually one of the best projects we launched, especially now, when hospitals are collapsing, people have almost no income, and medical health became a luxury,” Jendo said.

The new center will address mental and physical health and includes doctors of all specialties. The facility includes equipment such as a dentist chair, ultrasound display, electrocardiogram and other advanced tools. The project cost around $30,000, with three months of funding for mental health services and six months of funding for medical services provided by ASC’s partner, the Catholic Relief Services.

Since August, the ASC has worked with partners to conduct over 50 visits to families who reported mental health-related problems. The organization plans to open a separate healthcare space in the Assyrian Martyrs Square in Beirut. The center will only conduct its services for 6 months, as it is only a temporary project, ASC aims to continue with this project and reach out to as many beneficiaries while the project is in effect.

One of the greatest challenges the ASC deals with is that members of the organization are struggling with their own mental health after the explosion.

“Currently, our executive team is doing a great job in the administration and implementation of the project, and in case of emergencies, we forget about ourselves and head immediately to the most vulnerable and do our best to help,” Jendo said.

Photo by Assyrian Support Committee

The center is also prioritizing mental health in youth. In November, ASC launched a series of psychosocial activities for children who were directly and indirectly affected by the blast. The youth programs are led by experts in the child protection field that have previously worked with children who were affected by ISIS attacks in Khabour and Nineveh beginning July 2014.

The traumas incurred during those attacks resulted in many children who were unable to speak, Jendo said; however, many have begun showing signs of healing after working with ASC.

“Sessions are a set of fun activities that provide a safe space for children to find their mental peace and not traditional mental support,” Jendo said.

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