Syrian refugee Mohamed al-Bakhas is doing his best to protect his family from coronavirus by keeping their camp as clean as he can. But without enough soap or the money to buy sanitizer or face masks, there is only so much he can do.
"They gave us an awareness session and one bar of soap each, but this is not enough," said Bakhas, 40, referring to aid workers who visited his camp in northern Lebanon this week.
"We ask for disinfectants, sanitizers for the camp. We are a big group," said Bakhas, who fled to Lebanon from Homs in Syria eight years ago and lives with his wife and child.
A Syrian refugee woman puts a face mask on a boy as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, in al-Wazzani area, in southern Lebanon, March 14, 2020. (Reuters)
The UNHCR refugee agency said efforts to fight the spread of coronavirus to refugee communities had started early on.
Awareness campaigns and the distribution of hygiene materials were underway and preparations were being made for additional hospitalisation capacity that may be needed.
"We are all working around the clock," said Lisa Abou Khaled, communications officer at UNHCR in Lebanon.
Given the high population density of the camps, Hamad noted the difficulties of maintaining personal hygiene and said the spread of coronavirus was a real danger.
Field hospitals would allow for the isolation and treatment of the infected.
"The international community and U.N. institutions must without delay prepare the ground to save these communities in case the virus spreads among them," he said.
A man puts a face mask on a Syrian refugee boy as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, in al-Wazzani area in southern Lebanon, March 14, 2020. (Reuters)
Lebanon was grappling with a financial and economic crisis before coronavirus hit. The government is appealing for foreign aid for its public health system.
Coronavirus poses a host of new difficulties to refugees who have been struggling in poverty for years in Lebanon.
With water mostly trucked to their camps, refugees do not have enough for regular handwashing, relief workers say.
As it currently stands, accessing health care can also be a big problem: if refugees need to go to hospital, they cannot afford the ride or pay for treatment.
"We are exploring all options including setting up additional facilities in existing hospitals or separate field hospitals...its likely that a combination of both will be needed," Abou Khaled said.