Field hospital mushrooms into thriving medical network

Fellows Fall 2004

By Julie Goodman

June 02, 2009

BEIRUT — It began in 1984 with a small group of doctors, nurses and paramedics who banded together to establish a field hospital for the wounded as Beirut's southern suburbs were besieged by militias.

Twenty years later, that group — which was adopted by Hezbollah — has burgeoned into a sprawling network of hospitals, clinics and community training seminars that now serves 600,000 people a year.

The Islamic Health Society includes five hospitals, 62 health clinics, three counseling centers, two mobile clinics, 1,300 volunteers, 650 staffers and 740 doctors.

The society's workers screen schoolchildren for health problems for free, focusing on remote villages in deprived rural areas where fungal skin infections, digestive problems, poor eyesight and tooth decay have inhibited learning.

The group teaches residents about how AIDS is spread — and how not to discriminate against those who are infected. It also holds sexual awareness campaigns and shows residents how to use condoms, while stressing that sex should happen within marriage.

In addition to the health services, Hezbollah has swept in to help rebuild homes, schools and roads destroyed by Israeli mortar attacks and air raids.

Jihad al-Binaa, the party's network of agricultural, construction and engineering services, delivers with the help of about 50 mechanical, civil and electrical engineers. Its main function is to reconstruct and rehabilitate war-torn buildings, doing everything from repairing mosques to fixing broken toilets in public schools.

It also serves about 5,000 farmers across the country, offering pesticides and fertilizers at cost, as well as a free extension service. Its veterinarians hold yearly vaccinations for cows, goats and sheep, and keep tabs on fish as well.

Jihad al-Binaa has plunged into organic farming to reduce environmental stress and help meet a new domestic demand for healthy food. Every year, it distributes about half a million forest and fruit-bearing seedlings to help combat desertification and prevent erosion.

Jihad al-Binaa is an enterprise born of war but one its leaders say will continue with or without a resistance. "There is a place for Jihad al-Binaa among the people and they need us," says Ibrahim Ismail, Jihad al-Binaa director general and an agricultural engineer.

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