AUB medical students provide healthcare to migrant workers through HEAL

Mike Doyle
Contributing Writer

Since 2016, the Health, Empowerment, Advocacy, Learning (HEAL) initiative has been providing primary care and health education to migrant workers through its free clinics and classes each Saturday.

Lama Assi, a current medical student at AUB and one of the founding members of HEAL explained that the free, student-run clinic primarily serves migrant workers, but also serves refugees. The free clinic is modeled off of student-run clinics in the US. HEAL runs primary care screenings, occasionally providing specialty care days.

The idea for HEAL started with a health education class through the Migrant Community Center (MCC) in 2016. Assi noticed that many of the migrants in the class did not have access to proper care, commonly being prescribed over-the-counter drugs such as Panadol for the majority of their health complications.

This inspired the idea for a health day in February 2016, where free screening were offered through the MCC location in Gemayyze. With over 80 migrants attending the health day, Assi and other students saw the need to hold an additional health day in April and also begin a long-term organization to provide care for migrant workers.

HEAL emerged from the health day in April 2016 and after a year of researching how student-run health clinics in the US function, Assi and other AUB medical students began to run their weekly Saturday clinic at AUB out of the Sawwaf Building.

The Saturday clinic provides primary healthcare services and is occasionally providing specialty care days.

When asked about how migrant workers might access forms of healthcare beyond the primary care provided by HEAL, Assi stated that HEAL attempts to raise awareness about other healthcare centers where migrant workers can seek care.

“We can’t go check and make sure everyone [who we list] is providing appropriate care. We hope they are well treated. Another aspect with migrant workers is that the way people treat them might not be the same,” said Assi.

Assi also mentioned the AUB Outpatient Department and an attempt to lower the initial fee (26,000LL) to the follow up fee (13,000LL) for migrant workers’ first visit to the department.

The health education courses at MCC run by HEAL have been formed to provide practical examples and recommendations for preventative measures that take into account the day to day lives of migrant workers.

Assi elaborated that the “advocacy” part of HEAL comes in addition to the classes and screenings as the organization attempts to raise awareness of the poor conditions provided for the migrant workers via the kafala system, such as an inadequate healthcare provision mandate for sponsors that does not provide migrant workers access to comprehensive care. Assi stated that having the clinic on Saturday raises some complications, because many sponsors will not provide a few hours off each Saturday to receive health screenings, some stating that Sunday would be a better day––an impossibility for HEAL.

With regards to health complications that arise due to the kafala system, Assi said that back pain and skin problems tend to be common complications that arise related to work.

HEAL has not dealt with rape and sexual assault cases for female migrant workers, a common issue taken up among feminist organizers in Beirut and Lebanon. Assi asserted that some of these cases may not even make it to the clinic if the sponsor does not permit the migrant workers under their sponsorship much liberty.

Assi maintained that the kafala system could be improved for the migrant workers’ health if it required the sponsors to purchase adequate coverage for those they sponsor. She suggested that sponsors seek out appropriate care for migrant workers when the workers report that they need care.  

Assi also stated that while it might seem obvious, sponsors should treat migrant workers like humans, “Try to treat the person as one of your daughters or sons that is trying to working in the house,” keeping in mind that they are likewise prone to injury and to be mindful of their health before the workers carry out tasks.

She also affirmed that allowing workers some days off to rest and receive proper care would ensure optimal health for the migrant workers.
HEAL runs a free clinic out of the Sawwaf Building each Saturday. Appointments can be made by calling MCC from 4pm-8pm on Monday-Friday, Saturday from 12pm-8pm, and Sunday 8am-8pm at: 01 323 221. They can be contacted at: heal.aubfm@gmail.com

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