Two of the most reliable and well reputed dispensaries in Beirut are under the aegis of AGBU Lebanon. Here the Lebanese Armenian community enjoys access to affordable dental clinics and pharmacies, in addition to medical exams for the diagnosis of diseases like glucose testing, blood pressure checks, and injections. A number of general and specialized practitioners regularly visit the locations in the Amanos and Nahr districts of Beirut, offering medical advice and physical exams.
The face of these dispensaries is Dr. Krikor Sahakian, a long time member of the AGBU Lebanon District Com-mittee responsible for the delivery of quality care and treatment at both facilities.
If that weren’t daunting enough, as crisis after crisis befell his native Lebanon, the good doctor realized that as the country was spiraling downward, the demand for healthcare was soaring. With the overall health system in Lebanon suddenly unaffordable, and with medication shortages and physicians and nurses leaving for greener pastures, Dr. Sahakian prepared for the long haul, stalwart in his sense of obligation to his community and to his country. Despite the pressures that he and his well-trained staff must contend with, Dr. Sahakian is not about to let the community down, despite the daily challenges.
How have you succeeded in taking care of the community with so many obstacles?
We won’t talk about successes, let’s talk about the service we all owe to our community. Armenian dispensaries have always played a very vital role in Lebanon. However, lately, the dispensaries attract about 70 patients a day. That is a big caseload.
What health services are available at such a critical time?
We offer health services delivered by primary care physicians in the field of general medicine, ophthalmology, ortho-
pedics, gynecology, and cardiology, along with physiotherapy, a very modern dentistry center, and more and more psychological care. Since August 2020, we have had a shortage in medication and many other devices, so we worked with the Ministry of Health to obtain accreditation to become a primary health care center.
How has health ministry accreditation eased your burdens?
The contract provides us with free medication and training for our medical and paramedical staff. This enables us to be part of healthcare campaigns, vaccination campaigns, breast cancer campaigns, diabetes, and more. We have a special program that follows up on mother and child welfare. We offer maternal and child protection, pregnancy monitoring, vaccinations, checkups and other special services. This was a real breakthrough in the history of our dispensaries.
Because many other NGOs are also working through the health ministry, we are awaiting more sophisticated equipment in order to provide mammography, panoramic dental X-rays and other sophisticated machinery.
Under the state health system, are you expected to treat the general public?
Definitely. We cannot turn anyone away and we are open six days a week. But, since the dispensaries are located in the Armenian areas, they are mostly frequented by Armenians.
Yes, when you have troubles in your family, you don’t leave the family. You can find solutions elsewhere, but you don’t leave your roots
What were your challenges with a much heavier caseload?
The explosion really was a shock to the health system with so many people injured in their homes or businesses. It was a massive humanitarian crisis. So our dispensaries now serve as a relief operation too, a hub for the distribution of food and milk.
Our AGBU food box program keeps increasing in capacity. But with hyperinflation, the budgets are exploding because so many more have been thrust into poverty and are really suffering.
Are all your services free of charge?
They are practically free. There is a symbolic amount, which is paid by the patient. And, when they can’t, they don’t.
Are you able to procure whatever supplies you need at reasonable cost?
You have different problems interfering with one another. Because there is the medication shortage in town in regular pharmacies we buy everything from outside. Moreover, because NGO’s fulfill only part of the needs for dispensaries like ours, the rest goes unmet. The government decided a few days ago that they would no longer provide subsidies. Now the prices will increase by a multiple of 10 to 15.
Does AGBU have the capacity to help no matter what?
We know that we’ll have a rush in the coming days, and we don’t know how we are going to handle it, honestly. But, we’ll find the solution. For the last two years, every Monday in Lebanon, you have a new strategy, and at the end of the week, you have to change your strategy, because the situation has changed.
What keeps you motivated with all these unknowns?
Your question is very pertinent. Many people have left, but there is an amazing team here. And, we’re interested in this country. The Armenian community has been present in this country for the past 100 years after the genocide. Our community has been in this country for centuries before the 15th century and have grown in successive centuries. We have the Catholic Center here and we have the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate here as well. Our community is, and has been, very active. Why? Because, the Lebanese structure, our social and political structure, allowed us to develop our culture, our music, our crafts, our everything.
It sounds like you have no intention of leaving your country as some of your professional peers have.
Yes, when you have troubles in your family, you don’t leave the family. You can find solutions elsewhere, but you don’t leave your roots.
Of course, the situation is not easy to handle, but there is always positivity in everything. When you are facing such situations, it triggers greater solidarity and you see what people are able to do, which they don’t express in their day-to-day life. And, this is tremendous. The job that all our people in AGBU have done since 2020, and even before the blast is tremendous. It’s a real pleasure to work with them. And we work with other Armenian groups regardless of affinity.
Have you seen a rise in mental health issues among your patients?
The children express exactly what they see in their families. So, the difficulties of their family are their difficulties. We have many cases of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) going on. When they hear a noise or signal, or something falls, they panic. There is so much food insecurity, physical insecurity, financial insecurity all around. The consumption of tranquilizers and antidepressants has risen dramatically during the last weeks. Because what people are living through is unbelieveable. You cannot imagine it. Every day, you say, ‘It’s not possible,’ and yes, it is possible. So you have to keep digging for solutions.
How do you cope personally?
Though I am a man of science, I believe that miracles happen. We’re on the land of miracles. We are not so far from Jerusalem, you know.