For more than two years, Lebanon has been battling a severe economic and financial crisis. A high level of inflation, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has pushed the most vulnerable populations far below the poverty line. Many families now struggle to access basic requirements like food, fuel and electricity, and essential health services.
Healthcare services in Lebanon have also been affected by ‘brain drain’ across the country—40% of doctors and 30% of nurses have left Lebanon in the last three years, in part due to the dramatic impact of inflation on healthcare professionals’ salaries. This has had a significant impact on the quality and accessibility of care for vulnerable people, particularly women and children, leading to a sharp rise in the maternal mortality rate. Living under such difficult circumstances has led to a rise in mental health issues and domestic violence, exposing thousands of children to high rates of abuse and neglect.
What’s more, the Port of Beirut explosion on August 4, 2020 had implications at a national level. As well as the devastating loss of human life, the blast rendered half of Beirut’s healthcare centers nonfunctional, caused extensive damage to infrastructure and released potentially toxic chemicals into the air.
In light of this multi-layered crisis, UNICEF has been working with the Lebanese government, alongside partners including the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, to connect the private and public sector, retain vital skills in the country, increase the accessibility of affordable services and empower community health workers to make a meaningful impact on the populations they serve and contribute to the long-term recovery of Beirut.
Collaborating to strengthen primary and community health services
UNICEF and Johnson & Johnson have a long history and shared commitment to supporting children and families spanning over three decades and more than 20 countries, from Lebanon and Uganda to Vietnam and India.
In November 2018, Johnson & Johnson and UNICEF embarked on a multi-year partnership to build the capacity of frontline health workers globally. This shared commitment enables Johnson & Johnson and UNICEF to combine the Company’s support, strong market brand and core business assets with UNICEF’s global reach and deep expertise to help children globally survive and thrive and to extend the impact of frontline health workers.
In 2020, the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, with support from Johnson & Johnson Foundation, began working with UNICEF Lebanon to build the capacity of health workers in the country by strengthening local primary and community health services, with the goal of improving access and quality of care for vulnerable pregnant women, mothers and their newborn babies.
The partnership is already making an impact at a number of healthcare centers across the country. For example, at the Dar Al Hawraa Primary Healthcare Center in Beirut run by UNICEF and IOCC, people who meet certain vulnerability criteria can access subsidized essential maternal, newborn and child health services. The vulnerability assessment has been designed to reach those who need these services most urgently, including children under five, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly, people with non-communicable diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart conditions, and people with disabilities.
Around 16-17,000 people have already been able to receive services through this program, with 70% of the beneficiaries being women. In addition to subsidized services, the center also offers free antenatal and postnatal services and free vaccinations for children.
Building capacity among midwives
For those women who can’t make it to health centers in person, UNICEF is supporting midwives (via the Lebanese Order of Midwives) to organize home visits and provide essential community advisory services in-person. Along with providing antenatal check-ups, these midwives are doing valuable work raising awareness of the wider subsidized healthcare services available to vulnerable communities, many of whom are unaware that they can access everything from essential tests to medication for free or a reduced charge.
Sharing the work more widely
The team at UNICEF Lebanon is committed to raising wider awareness about their work in the country, as well as the impact of the partnership with the Johnson & Johnson Foundation. Recently, Sabeen Abdulsater, a health and nutrition officer for UNICEF Lebanon led a virtual field visit offering a guided tour of the initiatives in action to the Johnson & Johnson team.
“As the world's largest organization for children, UNICEF has a unique insight into how to achieve impact for children at scale,” said Darla Silva, UNICEF’s Chief Global Program Officer, as the virtual field visit came to a close. “For over 75 years, UNICEF has seen first-hand the critical role played by countries, local and national health systems. Strong systems can be transformational and create a ripple effect across an entire country with significant returns, wider impact and sustainability.”