Dispensary Saint-Antoine brings vital healthcare to a community in Beirut and its swelling immigrant population

Access to quality primary health care is a fundamental human right. This principle is the cornerstone of the St Antoine Dispensary in northwest Beirut. The Dispensary Saint-Antoine was established by a local bishop in 1987 during the Lebanese civil war. Today it functions as a primary healthcare center serving some of the most marginalized people of the region. It has been run by the Good Shepherd Sisters of Lebanon since 2005.

Many people living in poverty face a range of health issues, often caused by poor hygiene practices and sanitation, and difficult access to health care. Chronic ill health makes it difficult to earn a living or go to school. Many of these health issues can be easily prevented with a little help. The St Antoine Dispensary provides access to primary health care services in areas where no other health support is available. Services include maternal care, children's health, dental care, psychological counseling, plus a community healthcare educational program as well as a range of other specialized primary health services that are not provided in other health clinics. A professional medical team gives holistic personalized treatment of the individual looking at all the circumstances, not only treating the physical complaint. The approach is simple: to keep the whole family healthy.

The Dispensary Saint-Antoine is located in Roueissat, in the northwest of Beirut. It is an overcrowded community of around 4,000 families or 35,000 inhabitants. The high population density means resources are too scarce to adequately support the growing population. Housing is inadequate, and unemployment rates are at 30% due to the lack of professional qualifications, and the competition of foreign manual labor. Many families can hardly feed their children, and schooling is not available for all. Juvenile delinquency, alcoholism, drugs, prostitution and illnesses of all kinds thrive in the area. The surrounding poor neighborhoods are also home to thousands of Iraqi war refugees and clusters of impoverished Bedouins.

The Dispensary serves them all, providing quality primary healthcare services to multi-faith and multi-denominational communities of Christians and Muslims, plus new immigrants, laborers and refugees from as far as North Africa and an influx of Syrians. Served by 30 full- and part-time staffers and doctors, the dispensary is currently the only affordable healthcare service in Roueissat and the surrounding areas For example in 2013 the area of maternal health, the Dispensary provided services to 6,216 pregnant women and their newborn babies. This year - as of July 2014 - 3,200 pregnant women and their newborns were assisted.

This mission, however, is growing more difficult. Since conflict broke out across the border, the number of Syrian refugees accessing the clinic services has swelled, putting further strain on the clinic’s resources. 

What the future holds for the Dispensary Saint-Antoine:

The sisters are working to expand the site on which the healthcare clinic is located. With the increase in patient numbers, the waiting rooms are overcrowded and consultation rooms are too small and run-down. The sisters have begun work to establish new consultation rooms, however this is progressing very slowly as they are working with limited means. 

With the help of international partners the sisters plan in the future to expand and renovate the clinic and equip it with more modern essentials. Another priority high on the list is to get more support to give vulnerable children in this community a complete program of immunizations.