Ahmed, aged 34, is a father of four. He and his family arrived in Lebanon from Flitah in Syria in 2015. Since then, they have been living in an informal tented settlement in the outskirts of Arsal, a town at the north of Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border.
Today, Ahmed came with his two daughters and his wife to MSF’s clinic in Arsal. His youngest daughter, Zeinab, aged 18 months, was diagnosed with anaemia about four months ago.
“She looked very sick. She was very pale and ate very little,” says Ahmed. “The doctor prescribed an iron supplement and advised us to feed her more vegetables and beans, since we can no longer afford meat.”
Anaemia is linked to iron deficiency and is common among people who have a limited access to certain types of food such as meat or peas.
Ahmed used to be a shepherd before coming to Lebanon. Due to back pain, he had to stop working, but from time to time he helps his uncle tend the herd in the mountains around Arsal.
Since the economic crisis hit Lebanon, Ahmed’s family has struggled more and more to buy basic items.
“One kilo of meat cost 17,000 Lebanese pounds before, but now it costs around 60,000 Lebanese pounds,” says Ahmed. “It’s the same for tea, sugar and even vegetable like tomatoes. Everything has become at least four times more expensive and it’s only getting worse. At the end of the month, there’s nothing left for clothes or toys for the children, or for medicines. We save all our money for food and fuel, above all now during the winter.”
Arsal is located 1,500 metres above sea level. Snow and freezing temperatures are quite common during the cold winter months.
While Ahmed waits for his daughters, Zeinab and her six-year-old sister Fatima, to see a doctor, his wife, Halima, who also has anaemia, attends an antenatal consultation with the midwife.
Their fifth child is due in two months, an extra mouth to feed for the family’s already stretched budget.
“Our entire family benefit from the medical services in this clinic, even my parents, who both suffer from chronic diseases. They come here too to get their treatment,” says Ahmed.
During the consultation, the doctor notes that Zeinab’s condition has improved, but that Fatima has caught a respiratory infection. The family’s precarious living conditions – a shelter made from cement blocks and plastic sheeting – may probably have contributed to the girl’s health condition. Smiling shyly, Fatima confesses that she’d like to be a doctor when she grows up.
“I’m worried about the future for my kids,” says Ahmed, “but I hope that if they go to school and learn to read and write, they’ll be able to have a better life.”
MSF is providing free medical care for the most vulnerable people living in Lebanon, whether they are Lebanese, refugees or migrant workers. The organisation is present in about 10 different locations across the country. Our services include mental health, sexual and reproductive health, paediatrics, vaccination and non-communicable diseases. With a team of over 600 members, MSF conducts around 150,000 consultations every year from north to south Lebanon.
MSF first worked in Lebanon in 1976 and has been present in the country without interruption since 2008.