Late last year, UNRWA launched a thalassemia and sickle-cell anaemia testing and awareness campaign at Burj Shemali camp in Lebanon. Part of the campaign involved screening residents for the two diseases, and an unexpected result of the screenings was the unusually high number of participants with irregular or high blood sugar levels. The original campaign did not intend to focus on diabetes, but it provided valuable insight into the need for the Agency to do so, as high blood sugar levels increase the risk of developing Type II Diabetes.
UNRWA and refugees take initiative
UNRWA health staff took the initiative of contacting individuals whose tests revealed irregular blood sugar levels after the event and arranged for appointments with UNRWA doctors close to their area of residence for further testing. Many patients were shocked to hear about their potential diagnoses, especially those of younger ages. They vast majority of patients UNRWA health staff contacted later visited UNRWA clinics, where they were able to obtain more information about diabetes prevention and management.
Twenty-one-year-old Lobna was one such patient. After visiting a clinic and meeting with a doctor to describe additional symptoms, it was determined that indeed, she was diabetic. Surprised, Lobna recalled: “I experienced the symptoms the doctor described, but thought it was because of my anaemia--I really never expected this.”
“It’s just hard to believe because she’s so thin; we never thought to get her tested,” Lobna’s mother exclaimed. Despite her family’s distress to receive such difficult news, Lobna agreed to see a specialist and began taking the necessary steps to improve her health. UNRWA health officials follow up with Lobna and others like her regularly, ensuring that they are prescribed the appropriate medications and counselling them on prevention techniques and lifestyle changes.
Detecting and preventing
Unfortunately, Lobna’s case is not unique among Palestine refugees in Lebanon. The harsh living conditions for refugees in Lebanon, who lack access to public social services and have only limited access to health care, means that the community relies entirely on UNRWA as the sole provider of health. Unfortunately, the Agency has not been able to keep pace with the growing number of patients with chronic non-communicable diseases like diabetes.
As part of its ongoing efforts to improve the health of Palestine refugees in its five fields of operation, UNRWA is marking this year’s World Health Day with the launch of “Life is Sweeter with Less Sugar”; a diabetes and high blood pressure awareness campaign to improve the detection and treatment of both diseases among community members.
Read more about the “Life is Sweeter with Less Sugar” campaign.