The Lebanese Centre for Palliative Care, known as Balsam, is one of very few organisations in the country offering services to relieve the avoidable suffering of seriously ill patients and their families in the country. Balsam was founded by family physician Hibah Osman Care in 2011 who had experience of patients with chronic or terminal disease, living for relatively long periods in pain.
“When my patients started getting very sick and I didn’t have the resources to support them when they were sick and dying … the [idea] of palliative care opened up to me,” Dr Osman says. “We needed to create something so that when patients have serious illnesses, we are able to support them and take care of them because they’re still there, they are still alive and they’re suffering.”
Balsam is a non-governmental organisation that works to relieve patient suffering and improve quality of life – they provide holistic support to patients dealing with life-threatening illness by providing medical services as well as psychological, social, practical, and spiritual support within the family and home environment. They are committed to developing palliative care in Lebanon and ensuring that it becomes integrated into the healthcare system.
Loubna Baltouni, Balsam’s outreach coordinator said: “Palliative care services are almost non-existent in Lebanon. In fact, very few institutions offer such services. The concept of Palliative Care is still not familiar even to some health care professionals, it is an underdeveloped domain in Lebanon and the region. The Lebanese Ministry of Public Health supports our work but the NSSF (National Social Security Fund) and the insurance companies do not cover our services. Thus, we offer home palliative care services to patients at no cost. There are no training courses in Lebanon that are available for healthcare professionals and the medical and nursing university curricula barely mention palliative care. We spend a great amount of funds to send Balsam team members to receive training courses in other countries (Ireland, Canada, USA, Jordan, etc) since unfortunately they are not available in Lebanon.”
The healthcare team includes medical doctors, mental health professionals, nurses, and clinical pharmacists. The interdisciplinary team meets weekly to discuss patients’ conditions and develop a comprehensive plan of care. The core team members include Medical Director, Dr. Hibah Osman, and nurses Janane Hanna and Rebecca El-Asmar. All core team members have received training in palliative care at internationally recognised centres and they are continually working to enhance their knowledge, skills and expertise.
Balsam provides all its services for free and relies mainly on donations. According to Dr Osman “an estimated 25,000 people die in Lebanon each year … of those about 10 percent die suddenly … the other 90 percent die after chronic illness, whether that is cancer or something else…the estimate is that about 60 percent of those people could benefit significantly from receiving palliative care.”
To raise funds for and awareness of the services provided by Balsam, the Friends of Balsam organized a Fundraiser at SKYBAR, a well known prestigious rooftop-nightclub in Beirut, in September this year. In addition to music, food and ambiance, there was a fashion show, a tombola and a silent auction for paintings by Dia Azzawi. The event was deemed to be a success and was attended by around 500 people. Speaking about the event, Ms Baltouni, said: “This was an opportunity for us to make the cause and work of Balsam more visible to the Lebanese community.”