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LAU’s Mobile Clinic Delivers Free Tests and Training

An ambitious initiative cuts through public health challenges in areas that need it the most.

By Raissa Batakji

The Mobile Clinic delivers free-of-charge PCR testing to potential patients who would not otherwise be able to afford it, and builds the capacity of local health providers to run the tests securely and efficiently.
After Nabatiyeh, the Mobile Clinic set off to Tripoli and Zgharta.
The medical team gets ready to receive patients.
Having physicians go to the patient helps minimize exposure and the risk of contagion.

With only five certified testing centers for the novel Coronavirus disease in Lebanon, all of which based in Beirut, the stakes remain high for detecting and controlling the spread of COVID-19 across the country.

In an effort to make more tests available over more regions, the LAU Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury School of Medicine (SOM), under the leadership of Dean Michel Mawad, and the LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital have joined forces to launch the LAU Mobile Clinic, which will deliver free-of-charge PCR testing to potential patients who would not otherwise be able to afford it, as well as build the capacity of local health providers to run the tests securely and efficiently.

Division Head of Cardiology at the SOM and Chief Medical Officer at the medical center Georges Ghanem underlined the importance of adopting nationwide mapping of the spread of the disease. “The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) started with a very low capacity in testing and focused only on ‘testing to treat’ – as opposed to ‘testing to screen’,” he said.

What needs to be done instead, Dr. Ghanem explained, is increase the footprint of testing to include both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, and at random. “Accurate mapping needs to be based on testing at least 2.5 percent of the population,” he said.

Clinical Professor and Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases at LAU Jacques Mokhbat pointed to the high risk of low testing rates. “Unfortunately, one small cluster of undetected COVID-19 patients has the potential to spread the virus widely.”

Following a successful first trip to Nabatiyeh in South Lebanon, the clinic headed North to Tripoli, Zgharta, Kobayat, Tannourine, Byblos-Blat, Batroun and Chekka, most recently stopping in Bourj Hammoud today. Visits to all six governorates of Lebanon are already in the pipeline for the coming weeks. Dr. Mokhbat, along with a team of healthcare professionals are on board the clinic to supervise the process, as well as counsel and train their peers across Lebanon.

“Rather than have the patient come to the hospital, we are taking the physician and nurses to the patient,” declared Dr. Mawad, in the hope of minimizing exposure to other infected individuals, thus limiting the risk of contagion.

“In this regard,” he continued, “the medical center has been quick to install a negative-pressure COVID-19 triage unit to screen and test suspected patients, as well as prepare and equip negative-pressure isolated rooms to serve potential inpatients and ICU patients who might require mechanical ventilation.”

While the mobile clinic initiative had been initially conceived for a primary care campaign, its readiness coincided with LAU’s call for donations to administer as many tests as possible. Accordingly, the decision to put it on the road and bridge the gaps in testing made perfect sense.

The initiative was made possible through generous donations from Mersaco, the Czech Embassy, General Electric Healthcare, General Medical Equipment, and Majid Al Futtaim’s “Feel the Beat” Campaign.

LAU’s strategic plan to spread its academic and professional footprint beyond campus walls, especially in this time of crisis, does not stop with the mobile clinic. Both the SOM and the medical center have launched the LAU Coronavirus Telecare, a free-of-charge platform that offers medical consultancy to patients online, in an effort to contain the disease while addressing people’s concerns and giving them access to a medical professional who will assess their symptoms. The clinic will be managed by physicians from the LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital, under the supervision of the Division of Infectious Diseases.

Furthermore, said Dr. Mawad, “we have partnered with the medical administration of the Bouar Governmental Hospital to offer professional advice about containing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and making that facility ready to screen, triage, test, and admit patients affected with the disease. We are also assisting the Congregation of Maronite Missionary Fathers with equipping and preparing its rehabilitation center to become a fully-functional quarantine center for PCR positive COVID-19 patients.”

Through these initiatives, LAU hopes to create and sustain nationwide momentum in combating this pandemic. LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra called on all stakeholders to join. “Let’s continue to gather all our forces to win the war – not only the battle – against this disease that has paralyzed nations the world over.”