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Fighting COVID-19 on All Fronts: Lebanon works to leave no one behind

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29 May 2020
Fighting COVID-19 on All Fronts: Lebanon works to leave no one behind
The novel coronavirus has arrived in Lebanon, a small country already reeling under a serious economic and financial crisis, an ongoing refugee crisis, and persistent mass anti-government protests. “In Lebanon, this crisis comes at an already extraordinary difficult time economically, financially and socially,” said UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon ad interim, Claudio Cordone.

Since 18 March, Lebanon has started implementing general mobilization, shutting down its land borders, airport and seaports and shuttering non-essential businesses to stem the spread of COVID-19. However, since the onset of the crisis, the UN in Lebanon, with its 26 UN entities, have been working tirelessly with the Lebanese authorities to contain and slow the onslaught of this life-threatening disease, through coordinated and coherent response that ‘leaves no one behind’. 

Hygiene supplies: Public Health on the Forefront of Response

The World Health Organization (WHO) in Lebanon spearheaded immediate health response, by supporting the Lebanese Government in addressing medical shortages, procuring locally-produced equipment supplies, training health and non-health workers, increasing the testing capacity across the country and growing the number of beds for COVID19 patients in hospitals and Intensive Care Units (ICU). 

“So far, Lebanon was able to ensure a strong and well-coordinated preparedness and response to COVID-19. Now, we need to remain vigilant and continue providing the necessary support as the outbreak is far from being over”, said WHO representative in Lebanon, Dr. Iman Shankiti.

Educating the Public

“The battle against the COVID-19 outbreak is a double-fold struggle with the spread of misinformation,” stated Dr. Iman Shankiti, WHO Representative in Lebanon. “This is a time for science and solidarity,” stressed Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Lebanon Representative. 

WHO, UNICEF and UNDP worked with the Lebanese Ministry of Information to launch educational campaigns via television and social media to fight fake news and counter hate speech and prevent from stigmatizing people with COVID-19. Other social media campaigns were launched with the Ministry of Public Health, providing practical tips on how to take safety preventive and recovery measures from COVID-19. “Thank you for continuing to educate the world,” read one of the UN Lebanon Instagram followers to a short video created as part of these campaigns that reached over 3 million people through TV and 2.9 million on social media. 

One such campaign was the one-week #SafeHands4Lebanon challenge, that promoted handwashing as a preventive measure against COVID-19. Social media stars like Salma Abu Deif and Rita Lamah shared UN health messages, reaching about 3 million people in one week. “The COVID19 crisis proved to be a battle of communication, a battle to change people’s behavior by spreading facts, not fear, while relaying messages of hope to help protect people physically and mentally,” said UNIC Beirut Director, Margo El-Helou.

Selected influencers & UN officials taking the #SafeHands4Lebanon challenge

Women and Domestic Violence

Women in Lebanon have borne the brunt of the lockdown. The crisis increased women’s burdens of unpaid care labor, heightened their exposure to domestic violence, and put them to higher risk of contamination since they constitute the majority of healthcare workers in Lebanon. 
 
“During lockdown in March, more women were first time callers, reporting new incidents of violence. An increase in the severity and emergency nature of the calls compared to previous months,” according to the first issue of the Gender Alert on Covid-19 Lebanon produced by UN Women in partnership with the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW), WHO and UNFPA. 

This grim reality has spurred UN Women and UNDP to launch #TogetherAndEqual social media campaign to influence perpetrators of violence against women and challenge men to take part in domestic work and childcare to alleviate the burden on working mothers. “Ending the #Coronavirus takes all of us. Let’s keep safe by #working together,” captured one of the campaign’s posts. In two weeks, the campaign reached around 210,000 people and engaged over 15 male influencers in the challenge, including TV presenters, actors, bloggers, and ambassadors. 

Schools Closed. Online Learning Rolls Out

The education sector in Lebanon was also severely hit by the COVID19 crisis. But UNESCO, UNICEF along with FAO stepped up efforts with the government to develop alternatives to school closure and ensure students’ continued access to quality and inclusive education. These include paper-based education, TV and online learning. “Despite the crisis, learning should never stop,” said UNESCO’s Regional Director for Education in the Arab States, Dr Hamed al Hamami, committing to ensure continuity of education while “building a more resilient education system for the future”. A series of regional webinars to strengthen teachers’ capacities in distance teaching were also developed by concerned UN agencies as part of building their capacities to use ICTs in education. 

Scaling Up Support to Refugees 

The situation of refugees in Lebanon has been precarious. With the advent of the pandemic, both Palestinian and Syrian refugees who are already stranded outside their countries, find their lives upended yet again. They are unable to socially distance as they are crammed into informal settlements or refugee camps. 

To prevent this disease from gaining a foothold in refugee settlements, UNHCR, UNRWA, and partners worked with the government to create temporary isolation tents and outfit them with staff and protective equipment. They also expanded public hospitals with additional beds and ICU space to receive more patients from the refugee population. Hygiene information and material were also shared with 100% of registered refugees in Lebanon. 

Emergency cash assistance to 11,500 refugee families, in addition to the 34,500 families already benefiting from UN’s regular monthly cash assistance program, were provided by the UN to help them cater for their essential needs during this period of hardship. 

UNRWA’s 27 health centers continue to provide vital healthcare and life-saving services to Palestine refugees in Lebanon.

Fighting on All Fronts 

Despite the restrictions that COVID-19 pandemic has placed on their activities, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has continued to carry out its mandate to maintain peace at Lebanon’s southern-border 24/7 while assisting host population in their fight against COVID-19. As of April, UNIFIL donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and other supplies necessary for the containment of the virus to 10 state institutions and 13 villages in south-eastern Lebanon. These include face protective masks, protective suits, hand disinfectant liquid, protection gloves, chlorine solution, frontal thermometer and others.

UN agencies have worked tirelessly to provide timely response to those most acutely at risk due to the COVID-19 outbreak. On May 7, the UN launched the Lebanon Emergency Appeal requesting US$350 million to respond to the immediate socio-economic impact of Covid-19. “It is crucial to secure the requested funds so that those most in need can receive urgent humanitarian assistance,” said Claudio Cordone. The Appeal is premised on the principle of a single health response for all those residing in Lebanon, without distinction based on gender, nationality or status, and under the leadership of the Government of Lebanon. 

The UN cooperation with the Government of Lebanon at all levels continues to be crucial to fight the virus on all fronts and ensure that no one is left behind in such difficult times.