Nearly five million people have fled Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, according to figures from UNHCR. Over one million have escaped to Lebanon, equivalent to 27% of its pre-war population.
Among them are thousands of older women and men with very specific needs, many of whom are in desperate need of assistance. Our teams are working in local communities to identify those who need help and provide targeted support.
(c) Sandra Kastoun/HelpAge International
Warda is 85. She is a refugee from Syria. Her husband died 30 years ago and she only has one child and her neighbours for support. She suffers from low bone density and it is causing her serious medical problems.
"They told me that if I want to be able to walk I'll need a knee replacement, but that even if I had the money I wouldn’t survive the surgery," she said.
"I miss my health and mobility. I can't leave the house. I have to ask my daughter to bring me water."
Aid exists, but only for those who can reach it. Her ill health means she can only get there with transport, and she has no one to call on.
"How am I supposed to get this help if I can’t even leave the room?" she says.
What is HelpAge doing in Lebanon?
Together with our Lebanese partners Amel Association International, Imam Sadr Foundation, Makassed Association, YMCA and American University of Beirut, HelpAge is working to improve access to healthcare for the most common non-communicable diseases (NCDs) affecting older people. We are ensuring they can avoid life-threatening complications, improve their quality of life, and reduce the burden of their condition on individuals, families and communities.
Enormous strain has been placed on health services in Lebanon. The huge influx of patients in clinics and hospital is a particular challenge, and refugees are often bottom of the priority list.
Through clinics and mobile medical units that allow us to reach remote locations or patients who are unable to come to us, we are helping to alleviate some of the strain.
Our psychosocial group counseling gatherings provide peer support and advice, and we offer exercise and activity sessions to improve health and mobility. Our social events help to reduce stress and build support networks between individuals and create an environment in which older people can feel a sense of normality and rebuild their routines.
We held training sessions with staff in local health facilities, humanitarian agencies and officials of the Ministry of Health to enable them to provide high quality care and ensure they are responsive to the needs of older people, particularly those with NCDs. The Ministry of Health has recognised HelpAge as the key agency for any issue related to NCDs in older age and asked us to develop training materials on the needs of older people for its staff.
Over the last year we have:
- supported more than 2,500 patients, many on a regular basis, and provided them with drugs and laboratory tests to help them manage their conditions
- helped almost 2,000 people attend health education sessions on nutritional habits and the needs of older people who have one or more chronic conditions
- provided technical support through our Age and Disability Capacity Building (ADCAP) programme to other humanitarian organisations to be inclusive of age and disability in their work.
Speaking to older refugees
(c) Sandra Kastoun/HelpAge International
In partnership with Handicap International, we conducted research into the experiences and needs of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. By interviewing over 3,000 older refugees, we found they have been affected disproportionately by the conditions they faced fleeing Syria and are struggling to cope with their new lives.
Some 65% of those surveyed exhibited signs of psychological distress - three times more than the general refugee population. Feelings of fear, anger, depression and hopelessness are all common.
When it comes to physical health, older people do not fare any better. More than half suffer a chronic disease, compared to 16% of the wider population, and one in 20 picked up a physical injury in their escape. One in three have a severe impairment and 60% struggle with day-to-day activities.
These older men and women need specific support to improve their quality of life and meet their basic needs, ensuring they can live dignified and secure lives.