A Partnership to Provide Health Care to those Most in Need

The humanitarian crises in the Middle East have reverberated across the world. As these catastrophes evolve, innovative humanitarian responses on the ground are needed.

In Lebanon, one such response is the innovative partnership the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) struck with the AVINA STIFTUNG and Beirut’s Rafik Hariri University Hospital (RHUH). Together, we have launched a major project which aims to provide health care to people in great need — who would otherwise not be helped.

Dr Viktoria Schmidheiny, Philanthropist and Board Member of AVINA STIFTUNG, speaks with Ahmed, a patient at the ICRC ward in the RHUH. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

The aim of the AVINA STIFTUNG — ICRC — RHUH partnership, which was launched in 2016, is to:

  • Respond to the growing need for emergency medical care
  • Develop a long-term project with a regional training component
  • Develop a regional health-care model for war trauma and emergency medicine through operational research.

For more information on the RHUH project, please click here.

This partnership has already made a life-saving difference for some of the most vulnerable people in Lebanon and the region, including 17-year-old Hussein.

Dr Schmidheiny discusses Hussein’s recovery with the ICRC and RHUH staff. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

Hussein, a Yemeni citizen, was wounded in the crisis in Sanaa. The ICRC arranged for him to be transferred all the way to Beirut to receive the health care he urgently needs at the RHUH. Through the AVINA STIFTUNG — ICRC — RHUH partnership, the medical staff were able to reconstruct Hussein’s wounded face. He has a long road ahead of him but Hussein is ecstatic that he can return and kiss his girlfriend back in Yemen.

The AVINA STIFTUNG — ICRC — RHUH partnership has also made a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable across Lebanon. Read more about their stories here.

The Journey from Zurich to Beirut: A Closer Look at the Situation in Lebanon

In May 2017, Dr Viktoria Schmidheiny, a Board Member of AVINA STIFTUNG, along with a delegation from the foundation, traveled to Beirut, Lebanon. They met some of the patients who, thanks to the partnership with the ICRC and RHUH, have been able to access the health care they needed.

Their journey went beyond the RHUH and into the harsh realities faced by the thousands of people affected by the conflicts raging in the Middle East. Dr Schmidheiny was accompanied by AVINA STIFTUNG’s Consultant to the Board, Dr Peter Fuchs, Ms Elisabeth Meyerhans Sarasin, Board Member, and Ms Sibylle Feltrin, Director of the AVINA STIFTUNG.

AVINA STIFTUNG met with the Head of the ICRC in Lebanon, Mr Fabrizio Carboni, and discussed in details the collaboration with the RHUH. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

Regaining Mobility, Preserving Dignity

On arrival in Beirut, the ICRC accompanied the AVINA STIFTUNG members to Sidon — a coastal city in the south of Lebanon — to visit a physical rehabilitation centre supported by the ICRC for more than 20 years, which also serves patients treated in the RHUH.

Seven-year-old Hassan shows Dr Schmidheiny his new prosthetic leg, made in the colours he chose, in a centre supported by the ICRC in Sidon. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

This centre, the Singer Centre, provides prosthetics and physical rehabilitation to all those in need, regardless of their nationality, religion or political background.

There, the partners took a closer look at the latest technological advancements being used to help people who have lost limbs regain their mobility and independence.

For many, especially the thousands seriously wounded in the Syrian crisis, prosthetic limbs and physical rehabilitation allow them to resume their lives and reclaim their autonomy.

Dr Schmidheiny, with other AVINA STIFTUNG members, in one of the physical rehabilitation centres supported by the ICRC in Sidon. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah
The head of the physical rehabilitation centre presents the latest technology being used to AVINA STIFTUNG members — here 3D scanning of limbs. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah
A selection of the prosthetic limbs being produced in the centre in Sidon. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

The RHUH Project: Health Care for Those In Need

From Sidon, the next stop was Beirut, and specifically, the Rafik Hariri University Hospital (RHUH).

The AVINA STIFTUNG — ICRC project at the RHUH will welcome any emergency patient who cannot afford to pay for their care, whether local Lebanese, refugee, or migrant.

The partners together — AVINA STIFTUNG, ICRC and RHUH colleagues. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

At the RHUH, the team met patients receiving life-saving health care that they would not have received anywhere else. Some, like 17-year-old Hussein, were transferred all the way from Yemen to be treated.

Dr Schmidheiny talks with Hussein, a patient flown in from Yemen for treatment. He described his joy at regaining his lips — and his goal to be able to return home and kiss his girlfriend. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah
Dr Firass Abyad, the director of the RHUH, describes the results of the partnership between the hospital, the ICRC and the AVINA STIFTUNG. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

The team then toured the RHUH with ICRC engineers who are providing support to the hospital’s crumbling infrastructure. Through the partnership with AVINA STIFTUNG, the ICRC’s team has already been able to:

Facts and figures from 2016–2017. Infographic: ICRC
The ICRC’s engineering team explain the challenges at the RHUH. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

The Harsh Reality for the Patients

Following the tour of the RHUH, the group saw where the most vulnerable patients came from: the underprivileged neighbourhoods housing refugees across Lebanon.

The neighbourhoods, made up of incomplete buildings lacking water and sewage systems, are home not only to Syrian and Palestinian refugees, but also vulnerable and impoverished migrant workers.

Dr Schmidheiny speaks with a Syrian refugee family living in an underprivileged neighbourhood in Beirut. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

The AVINA STIFTUNG and the ICRC visited a Syrian refugee family living in one of these neighbourhoods in the suburbs of Beirut. The father, Ahmad, not only received physical rehabilitation sessions for a serious injury sustained in Syria, but also financial assistance to support his family during his treatment.

With this financial assistance, Ahmad’s family was able to sustain themselves and move from a 2-bedroom house shared with 20 people, into a larger home in the same area.

Ahmad with his family in an underprivileged neighbourhood where they live in the suburbs of Beirut. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah
The AVINA STIFTUNG and ICRC team visits an underprivileged neighbourhood in Beirut. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

Temporary Homes in East Lebanon

From the informal settlements within the capital to the tented settlements spread across Lebanon, the AVINA STIFTUNG and ICRC then headed to East Lebanon. The team visited Syrian refugee families living in Bar Elias, a town within sight of the Syrian border. This town, like others in east Lebanon, is now home to thousands of refugees.

AVINA STIFTUNG visited the tented settlement that many Syrian refugee families now call home in East Lebanon. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

For the 1.2 million Syrian refugees residing in Lebanon, these tents are the only thing standing between them and the blistering sun in summer and the harsh cold and snow during winter.

In Bar Elias, the team visited a settlement, home to Syrian refugee families, and listened as they described their experiences, challenges and hopes.

ICRC’s field team described the situation of thousands of refugees living in dire conditions. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah
Members of the AVINA STIFTUNG visited Syrian refugee families in one of the many informal settlements scattered across Lebanon. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

In three days, the plight of the most vulnerable people affected by the crises in the region and living in Lebanon was clear: the humanitarian disasters are pushing everyone to the limit and forcing people, states and organisations to reshape their response.

Partnerships like that of the ICRC in Lebanon with the AVINA STIFTUNG and the RHUH are saving lives today — and developing new ways to meet humanitarian needs in the future.

For more information on the partnership between AVINA STIFTUNG — ICRC — RHUH, please click here.

Dr Schmidheiny and a patient at the ICRC-supported physical rehabilitation centre in Sidon, South Lebanon. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

Thank you

The ICRC and the RHUH would like to sincerely thank AVINA STIFTUNG for its collaboration. Through this trusted partnership, the most vulnerable in Lebanon and beyond can access the health care they might otherwise never receive.

The members of the AVINA STIFTUNG visitor team. Photo: ICRC/M. Tahtah

The partners

The Swiss-based AVINA STIFTUNG was founded in 1994 by Dr Stephan Schmidheiny. It actively enters into partnerships with foundations, networks, people and organisations which deal with like-minded issues.

For more information on AVINA STIFTUNG, please click here.

The Rafik Hariri University Hospital (RHUH) is a public independent establishment that offers medical services to Lebanese citizens in Beirut and all other regions. It ensures care and hospitalization services in an academic frame and offers high-quality treatment and health-related follow-up.

For more information on the RHUH, please click here.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been present in Lebanon since 1967 and has carried out its humanitarian work through different periods of conflict, including Lebanon’s 15-year-long civil war from 1975–1990.

For more information on the ICRC’s activities in Lebanon, please click here.