Respiratory Medicines Helping Newborns Breathe Easy in Lebanon

Babies are cared for at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon. The hospital received a Direct Relief donation of medicine that helps prematurely born babies breathe. The donation was delivered to hospitals in partnership with American Near East Refugee Aid. (Photo courtesy of ANERA)

Editor’s note: The post below was originally published by American Near East Refugee Aid. ANERA serves Palestinian refugees and poor communities in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon, and is a partner of Direct Relief. The post appeared on ANERA’s site on July 13, 2017.

Throughout the world, prematurity is the leading cause of death in children under five. About one million babies die from preterm birth complications each year.

According to the World Health Organization, in almost all countries with data, premature birth rates are increasing. Prematurity is also more likely to afflict poorer segments of the population within countries.

What’s worse is that the majority of these deaths could have been prevented with adequate health care. Yet health care is out of reach for many poor families, and especially for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

NGOs estimate that around 18,000 preterm babies are born each year in Lebanon. Half of them are Syrian babies—showing that premature birth is more prevalent among refugees than in the local population.

Donated Medicine Helps Lebanese Hospital Cope with Premature Births

Raeda Bitar, a pharmacist at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, said that Survanta is a life-saving medicine for many of the babies admitted to the hospital. (Photo courtesy of ANERA)

One of the well-known public health care facilities is Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut. “Around 60 percent of our patients are Syrian refugees, and 40 percent are Lebanese,” said Dr. Imad Shokor, head of pediatrics at the hospital.

“On average, the hospital delivers around 400 Lebanese and Syrian babies each month,” said Dr. Shokor. “In many cases, there are complications either with the newborn, the mother, or both, and this keeps the intensive care unit at pediatrics very busy.”

This spring, the hospital received an in-kind medical aid donation of Survanta, an essential medicine for breathing complications in preterm babies. “Survanta saves the lives of premature babies, and it costs around $500 per vial,” said Shokor. The medicine was developed in the early 1980s, but it was not available in Lebanon until 2004.

Rafik Hariri University Hospital delivers around 400 babies each month. Around 60 percent of their patients are Syrian refugees, and in many cases there are complications with the newborn, the mother or both.

“Survanta is an item that we cannot run out of because it’s a lifesaving medicine,” said Raeda Bitar, the hospital’s head pharmacist.

“These in-kind donations address some of the challenges we face in the pediatrics department, and the hospital in general,” added Dr. Shokor. “There are many challenges that impact our ability to provide the necessary care for our patients, especially due to limited financial resources.”

Direct Relief is one of ANERA’s partners, and Survanta was part of a Direct Relief shipment recently donated and delivered to public hospitals by ANERA in collaboration with the YMCA.