© Mario Fawaz/MSF


The arrival of COVID-19 and a massive explosion in Beirut dealt further blows to Lebanon’s health system, already fragile following a year of economic, political and social unrest.

Beirut explosion: 4 August 2020

Immediately following the explosion, MSF health workers volunteered at public and private hospitals across Beirut.

The MSF teams proactively organised the donation of first aid kits to support the Lebanese Civil Defense on the same night. 

We assessed the needs of public and private hospitals to provide the required medical and logistic support that they might need to overcome this crisis.


Lebanon background

More than a quarter of people living in Lebanon are refugees, including over one million from Syria. 

In its heyday, comparisons were often made of the small Mediterranean country with Switzerland because of its economic power and diversity.

But today, it is struggling to cope. The civil war in Syria is putting a colossal strain on its neighbours, including Lebanon whose population stands at just four million.

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been working in Lebanon since 1976, when we began our response to the 15 year civil war.

Today, we are helping those seeking refuge from one of the worst conflicts in modern history.

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MSF's work in Lebanon: 2020

In August, a huge explosion tore through the capital, Beirut, killing at least 200 people and destroying many homes and businesses. The blast resulted in a spike in COVID-19 cases as thousands of injured and traumatised people took to the streets to seek treatment for their wounds or search for missing family members, abandoning all precautionary measures. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) assisted residents of the devastated areas by providing medical care and mental health support, distributing hygiene kits and installing water tanks.

COVID-19 spread from September and overwhelmed the healthcare system. A series of lockdowns further aggravated the economic crisis. As the number of cases increased, we transformed our hospital in the Bekaa Valley into a COVID-19 facility and supported an isolation centre in Siblin, in the south of the country. In Elias Haraoui in Zahle, we adapted and expanded our activities in the emergency room to ensure effective triage of patients. Our teams also carried out COVID-19 testing and health promotion activities in several locations across Lebanon.

The MSF doctor examines Fatima, aged six, who has caught a respiratory infection.

Preventing the pandemic from disrupting other essential health services was of fundamental importance to our teams in Lebanon. During the year, we kept existing activities running, to ensure access to free, high-quality healthcare for vulnerable people in need of medical or humanitarian support, such as Syrian refugees – there are over a million in the country. We ran reproductive health services and maternity centres in south Beirut and Arsal, and offered general and intensive care, including vaccinations and treatment for children with thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder. Mental health support and care for non-communicable diseases were also available in our projects.

MSF's work in Lebanon: 2019

The demonstrations that took place in 2019 were the largest in terms of numbers, geographical spread, and diversity for decades. Thousands of people protested against the sectarian Lebanese political system, which fuelled years of institutional corruption, leading to a stagnant economy, unemployment and limited access to basic services such as electricity and clean water.

The economic instability and political deadlock led to rapid inflation. As a result, living conditions deteriorated and health costs increased, affecting the most vulnerable fringes of society, whether Lebanese, migrants or refugees.

In Lebanon, the health system is highly privatised and fragmented, and free medical services are almost non-existent. Ensuring free access to high-quality general and specialist healthcare has been MSF’s main objective since 2008.

Bekaa Valley

In Bekaa Valley, an area with a dense Syrian refugee population, we run general healthcare services in Arsal, Hermel, Baalbek and Majdal Anjar clinics. We treat chronic non-communicable diseases and provide mental health support and sexual and reproductive healthcare services, with a focus on mother and child health in Madjal Anjar and Arsal.

In 2019, MSF partnered with the Ministry of Public Health to implement part of its national mental health strategy by extending World Health Organization (WHO) Mental Health Gap Action Programme activities to our Hermel and Arsal clinics. The programme, known as mhGAP, aims to guarantee access to treatment for mental health disorders to more people, with general practitioners supervised and supported by psychiatrists.

We also run a specialised paediatrics programme in Zahle that includes emergency consultations, paediatric intensive care and treatment for thalassemia at Elias Hraoui governmental hospital.

In Bar Elias, we provide care for severe wounds, with a focus on burns patients, and essential elective surgery for adults and children.

Northern Lebanon and Akkar

In Wadi Khaled, we offer general healthcare for vulnerable local communities, including mental health support, treatment for chronic non-communicable diseases, and paediatrics. Our teams in Tripoli and Al-Abdeh continue to provide treatment for chronic noncommunicable diseases, family planning services and mental healthcare. As in Bekaa, we are partnering with the Ministry of Public Health to implement the WHO mhGAP programme.

In 2019, we initiated new operational research to test the feasibility of using a fixed-dose combination medication for patients with cardiovascular disease, particularly those living in a refugee setting. 

South Beirut

Our services in South Beirut include sexual and reproductive healthcare, treatment for chronic non-communicable diseases and mental health consultations, in Shatila refugee camp and at our family clinic in Burj Barajneh camp. We also offer maternity services in our birth centre in Rafik Hariri University hospital.

A mother and baby at MSF’s birthing centre in Rafik Hariri University Hospital, Beirut. Lebanon, April 2019.

South Lebanon

Our team in Ein Al-Hilweh, one of the most populated Palestinian refugee camps, operate a home-based care programme for patients with chronic non-communicable diseases and support medical personnel in the camp with emergency response training to enable them to stabilise patients with violence-related injuries. 


find out more in our international activity report >

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