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Discussion Session “Tackling Stigma and Discrimination in Healthcare Settings in Lebanon”

Beirut, Lebanon – June 8, 2024

Discrimination against certain groups in Lebanon leads to the exclusion of a significant segment of society, depriving them of their rights to health, education, work, and access to services. This exclusion and discrimination, specifically carried out by health and social care providers, results in familial, local, and social harm, is considered a violation that affects not only the person himself but also the public health in the country.

To address these issues, under the “Getaway for Better Health – Improving Access to Healthcare for Key Populations in Lebanon” project, funded by L’INITIATIVE – Expertise France, and “Nadoum” project funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, SIDC, in collaboration with The Lebanese Syndicate of Midwives, and the Syndicate of Social Workers in Lebanon, organized a discussion session on Saturday 8 June 2024.

Over 50 people attended the discussion session, including representatives from the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Major Tarek Al Ajmi from the Internal Security Forces, national programs concerned with AIDS, tuberculosis, and mental health, as well as a Professor Nermine Sibai representative of MP Halima Kaakour, and representatives of health and social syndicates: Lebanese Order of Physicians, the Order of Nurses, the Syndicate of Dietitians, the Arab Optometry Association, and representative of UN agencies, civil society organizations, and media outlets.

Dr. Nadia Badran, President of the Syndicate of Social Workers in Lebanon and Executive Director of SIDC, opened the meeting by highlighting the key areas, manifestations, and causes of stigma and discrimination faced by the most vulnerable groups in the health and social sectors and their impact on the lives of right holders. She also stressed on the achievements of SIDC, especially with regard to drafting a law that refutes discrimination in all its forms in Lebanon, and working closely with unions such as the Order of Nurses, the Syndicate of Social Workers, and the Order of Midwives, aiming to reach a large segment of professionals in public and private health and social centers who are in direct contact with people.

Dr. Youssef Bakhash, President of the Lebanese Order of Physicians, emphasized the importance of the issue and the importance of working on the rights of patients or beneficiaries of health services, and suggested to follow-up in coordination with the Health Professions Syndicate. He also focused on the importance of oversight in the health sector amid the significant lack of proper comprehensive health services. Among the participants, the retired General Doctor Ibrahim Hanna, advisor to the General Directorate of the Internal Security Forces for Medical Affairs, stressed on the prisoner’s right to access health care and hospital services, which unfortunately puts his life at risk, and called to follow up on this issue with the relevant stakeholders.

Dr. Rima Sassin, President of the Order of Nurses in Lebanon, stressed the importance of building a societal culture that combats stigma and discrimination by raising awareness and revisiting cultural legacies, negative attitudes, and personal judgments. In her view, these legacies affect the actions of professionals, and this is common, but it can be addressed.

Mr. Elie Al-Araj, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Harm Reduction Association (MENAHRA), praised the importance of the topic of the meeting, as it addresses the discrimination against undesirable groups in society, and that efforts to change the social perception towards them is a long-term issue that requires networking and partnership with all concerned, including clerics and media institutions, as well as working on amend/draft laws that protect these rights. Also, work on the Arab strategy for AIDS, which was approved by the Arab Parliament but still not ratified by the Lebanese Parliament.

Judge Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah Abu Zeid, President of the Sunni Sharia Court in Saida, noted the need to address the discrimination that occurs when providing services in poor places and in camps, and to monitor the health and medical team of service providers, especially those who work outside the framework of organized work, and protecting them and the beneficiaries of the services provided.

Mrs. Manar Zeaiter presented the role of syndicates and professional orders in addressing discrimination, stigma and challenges faced and explored the opportunities the local civil institutions can take in advocating for vulnerable populations.

Next, Ms. Rana Al-Tin, on behalf of the Professional Ethics Committee of the Syndicate of Social Workers, and Dr. Rima Chaaito, President of the Syndicate of Midwives, presented the policy paper that was developed in both unions, where they stressed the necessity of adhering to the ethics and etiquette of the profession and taking into account the privacy of the people they deal with while providing health and social services. They also emphasized the role of unions in developing the capabilities of professionals in terms of an accurate and in-depth understanding of the content of the code of conduct.

In the end, Mrs. Manar Zeaiter emphasized on the obstacles that vulnerable groups face in accessing complaints mechanisms, even if they exist and there are disciplinary councils. Hence, the importance of addressing these issues in effective ways is crucial.

The discussion concluded with a set of recommendations at several levels: the cultural level and changing cultural legacies and negative attitudes, the legal and policy level by amending unfair and discriminatory laws, developing health policies and ethical rules and the service level and protecting rights holders in accessing services, knowledge and information.

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