Lebanon is in many ways a big draw for expats. With beautiful scenery, a Mediterranean climate and vibrant nightlife, the country is often viewed as an exciting prospect for those looking for something different. However, as was recently demonstrated, the country is still occasionally embroiled in conflict, making everyday life occasionally unpredictable and sometimes dangerous. For those expats living in Lebanon, and particularly Beirut, it is essential that they have adequate medical cover, not only for everyday health concerns, but just in case they are caught in the fall-out of conflict.
The country currently has around 6000 UK expatriates, according to data released by the IPPR, who are working across a range of sectors from commerce through to charitable work. Lebanon is still home to many who work in post conflict and reconstruction activities.
Health insurance policies which include limited cover against terrorist attacks are available, but with conflicts not solely confined to war zones nowadays, effective cover which reflects this new global reality is now even more important.
Passive war cover, as the term is known, is likely to be of particular interest to staff in aid agencies and rebuilding contractors. Policyholders benefit from the full range of services, including hospital benefits and evacuation, in the event of injury by terrorists or as part of a broader war conflict. Evacuation is likely to be particularly relevant in conflict zones, where local medical facilities may be damaged or supplies of medication and blood for transfusions may be an issue.
According to the British Foreign and Commonwealth (FCO) website, because of the Lebanon's fragile political situation, together with the threat of terrorism, sometimes directed towards Westerners staying in the country, it is essential that comprehensive medical insurance is taken out. Quite apart from the risks posed by political conflict, day to day hazards also pose significant risk. An example highlighted by the UK FCO is driving standards, which are widely acknowledged as being poor, so the accident rate is very high.
Healthcare in Lebanon is among the best in the region and some hospitals are on a par with European and US hospitals. This is despite the relatively short time it has had to develop following the devastation of the civil war and more recent bombings. Most hospitals are well equipped, but, without insurance, medical treatment tends to be very expensive. The majority of healthcare staff speak good French or English, and so communication is rarely a problem.
Private clinics and medical centres are available throughout the country and equipped with the latest facilities and technology. The American University of Beirut Medical Centre (AUBMC) is one of the Middle East's leading multispecialty medical facilities with several of its departments serving as distinguished referral centres for the region.
Most Lebanese are privately insured and those registered with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) have partial health coverage. Local nationals wanting to avail themselves of extended or more comprehensive cover can buy private policies, such as those offered by MediCare International.
Policies providing corporate group coverage are widely used by companies registered at the NSSF to supplement the benefits provided by the government's healthcare system. International private medical insurance is available for non-Lebanese living in Lebanon. Costs for healthcare varies between hospitals and doctors.
A number of pharmacies are available across the country. Many drugs are available over the counter without prescription, and some pharmacists prescribe required medicine for minor ailments.
The National Travel Health Network and Care website advises that normal precautions should be taken to avoid HIV. It currently affects 0.1% of the population. Compared with 0.2% figure for the UK population, this still puts it in a relatively low risk category. Travellers to the country need to present a yellow fever vaccination certificate on entry into Lebanon, although the virus is not present in the country.
In addition, vaccinations against Hepatitis A and Typhoid are needed if the person is going to be in the country on a long-term basis, staying with friends and/or relatives, or when staying in an area with poor sanitation. This is the case for most expats staying in the country, so the vaccinations will be needed.
Hepatitis B needs to be vaccinated against for all travellers to Lebanon, particularly those expats staying there for long periods of time. 2 - 7 % of the population are carriers of the virus, and so the risk of transmission is relatively high.
Expats who are living in more remote areas and who are likely to have contact with wild animals should be vaccinated against rabies.
Whilst many of the medical facilities offering treatment are excellent, healthcare cover in the Lebanon is an essential purchase, both to protect against the wide range of possible illnesses and also the risks that a local conflict could bring, particularly in a region which can be volatile, and does experience terrorist activity, some of which is targeted directly towards Westerners. Private international healthcare insurer MediCare International - website www.medicare.co.uk - counts Lebanon as one of its top ten insurance destinations for expats and local nationals and specialises in passive war insurance cover to ensure clients are fully protected.
David Pryor, Senior Executive Director with Medicare International (http://www.medicare.co.uk) said: "There are some excellent facilities in Beirut and other parts of the country, although the standard of healthcare is not consistent across all regions. We pride ourselves on providing the best possible service for our customers, so if medical facilities are inadequate we always organise transfer to top-class medical treatment, whether that is in the country, or a neighbouring one. Our policies cover all nationalities, including local Lebanese and include full cover in the event that a client is injured as a result of a local conflict breaking out. Against this background, we strongly recommend expatriates in particular are covered for all eventualities."
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