Refugee Skin Health in Lebanon: Professor Chris Griffiths

26 February 2019

ILDS Board Member Professor Chris Griffiths recently visited the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, where he volunteered as part of a Beyond Association team providing dermatological care to Syrian refugees.

Chris Griffiths At A Syrian Refugee Camp, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.
Chris Griffiths at a Syrian Refugee Camp, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Since the onset of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, over five million Syrians have fled their country and sought asylum in other parts of the World (“UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 16_02_2016”. Accessed on 8 March 2019). The vast majority of which are hosted by neighbouring countries: Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. According to the Lebanese government, Lebanon has received at least 1.5 million Syrian refugees – 1.1 million of whom are registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees(“Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, 2016”. UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP. 16 December 2016. Accessed 20 November 2018) and half of which are children (below 18 years old)(“Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2017–2020”. UNHCR. January 2017. Accessed 20 November 2018).

Given this situation, Chris felt compelled as a doctor and a human being to help in whatever way possible. He departed for the Bekaa Valley, as part of a joint mission involving Professor Abdul-Ghani Kibbi (a previous ILDS Board member) of the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the NGO Beyond Association on 12 July 2018. In preparation for this, Chris and his team planned the logistics for the humanitarian mission to the Syrian camps, including the boxing up of the necessary medical supplies to take with them.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon, much like their counterparts across the world, have limited access to healthcare services and other resources. Life in the Anjar and Saad Anyil refugee camps were no different. Prof Griffiths observed that:

Life was challenging and conditions were harsh as the refugee camps lay in an open plain without shade. Thus, they were sweltering hot in summer and very cold in winter. Overcrowding was also a key issue as families, often comprised of five or more people, lived in small shelters made of wooden poles, canvas and woven sheets.

Despite these hardships, he added that these communities were resilient and focused on the future.

During his stay, Chris and his team helped treat over 130 patients for a wide range of dermatological conditions, including head lice, leishmaniasis, atypical mycobacterium, and scabies as well as other skin conditions commonly seem in the UK such as basal cell cancer, psoriasis, eczema and acne, among many others. Although they were able to aid most patients, there were a few cases that required more specialised treatment which the camp lacked. In cases such as these, the team were able to arrange for further treatment in Beirut – thanks to a small fund provided by AUB. However, this option was not available for all who required it as resources were limited and overstretched.

As a result of his trip, Prof Griffiths left the Bekaa Valley feeling both humbled and inspired. He subsequently joined the ILDS’ Migrant Health Working Group and in December 2018 and visited Myanmar to meet with local dermatologists and those responsible for national healthcare to forge links and perhaps improve care for displaced groups including Rohingya refugees.

A full interview with Prof Griffiths, about his experience in the Syrian Refugee Camps, is available in the latest issue of the Community Skin Health Journal (Vol 15 (1)).