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Stories from non-communicable chronic diseases patients in Lebanon

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Malak Arab, 70 years old

Malak Arab arrived in Lebanon a year-and-a-half ago from the region of Halab-Syria, though her son and daughter are still there, as far as she knows. She and another elderly woman live in a room in a building in Baalbek that hosts many Syrian refugee families who share bathrooms and kitchens. For the past six weeks, she has been getting medical assistance from MSF’s clinic in Baalbek.

“I came to Lebanon because of war, the bombing was everywhere,” she says. “I had to pay 1,200 Syrian Lira [$8] to enter Lebanon.”

“For one year before I came to Lebanon, I moved from place to place in Syria, because of bombings. I am not in contact with any of my family members and friends. My children couldn’t come to Lebanon because all our papers were burned in Syria. They took me as far as the border, but after that, I had no one to help me. Now I rely only on solidarity among us, the refugees.”

“I have suffered from asthma for 10 years, as well as gallbladder disease. In Syria, all the drugs I needed were available and I could always visit the doctor. My children provided me with the necessary medications. But after the war began, there was less medication available and my health deteriorated. At one point, I could not get my medicines for three months, even though I had the proper vouchers.”

“I managed to buy a small stock of drugs before I came to Lebanon, but my health has suffered because of the war. Now, I have hypertension, too, and I can hardly walk due to stress. In Syria, I followed a diet prescribed by my doctor, but in Lebanon, I eat whatever is available; if someone cooks, I eat whatever is cooked.”

She lies on the floor, trembling. “I am exhausted.”

Najah Al Rezek, 53, and her daughter, Khadije Achtar, 34

Najah Al Rezek, who hails from the region of Halab-Syria, is living in Lebanon with her daughter, Khadije Achtar, who is disabled, in a small room with a shared kitchen and bathroom. She also has a son and a daughter in the country but she has lost contact with them.

It’s been a year since Najah arrived in Lebanon. Previously, she had lived in five different regions in Syria, trying in vain to find a place that the war could not reach. Her son helped her disabled daughter, who also suffers from speech issues, join her two months ago.

Najah has suffered from hypertension, diabetes, and rheumatism for almost 10 years. While she was moving around inside Syria, she did not have regular access to the medications she needed, including insulin. Sometimes she went for more than a month without drugs essential to her care.

“I started feeling headaches and aches in my lungs when my treatment was interrupted,” she says, while feeding her daughter, who is seated next to her on the floor. “In Lebanon, to financially sustain myself, I was cleaning dishes at a restaurant. My neighbours, other refugees, helped me take care of my daughter while I worked, and my small salary meant I could buy food and maintain a decent diet for us. But I had to stop working as a result of my health problems and now I eat whatever is available. I still have 50,000 Lebanese pounds [around $33] as savings from my working days, but otherwise we are surviving only through food vouchers from UNHCR.”

MSF is providing both Najah and her daughter Khadije with the medicines they need. For Najah, this is insulin and hypertension medicine. “I store the insulin at my neighbours home because they have a refrigerator,” Najah says.