Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Humanitarian Aid

Healthcare for Syrian refugees

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 04 August 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4150
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist, Suffolk, UK
  1. jgornall{at}

As Syria’s civil war rages on, promised aid money has not materialised and the UN is struggling to provide healthcare for more than four million refugees. Jonathan Gornall reports

During a snow storm on New Year’s Day this year, triplets Riyadh, Ahmed, and Khalid were born in a refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Their mother developed heavy bleeding and died shortly after the births; the smallest of the boys died three weeks later.1 The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which drew global attention to the family’s tragedy, could not confirm whether the births had taken place in the family’s tent or in a medical facility. But in June, the head of the agency, Antonio Guterres, warned that there are “70 000 pregnant women at risk of unsafe deliveries” because “life-saving health services are becoming too expensive for many.”2

In Lebanon, UNHCR covers 75% of the cost of life saving, obstetric, and emergency hospital care for refugees. But increasingly refugees cannot scrape together their 25%. The agency told The BMJ that it had spent $40.25m (£25.80m; €36.60m) subsidising healthcare costs for 55 000 refugees in Lebanon in 2014—approximately $727 a head. Given that in 90% of cases UNHCR pays only 75% of the costs, with the patient being left to find the balance, this suggests an average cost per patient of about $1000.

“We do our best to refer refugees to non-governmental organisations or charities who are able to assist them with the remaining fees as most have depleted whatever resources they had and are often unable to cover outstanding costs,” …

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