Feature: Cancer patients struggle to survive in war-torn Yemen

Source: Xinhua| 2018-09-13 22:42:40|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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Children cancer patients play during a rest at the National Oncology Center in downtown Yemen's capital Sanaa on Sept. 12, 2018. (Xinhua/Mohammed Mohammed) 

by Mohamed al-Azaki

SANAA, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- In downtown Yemen's capital Sanaa, crowds of cancer patients fill the yard of a two-storey National Oncology Center, waiting for their turn to receive chemotherapy treatment.

Six-year-old Badriyah Hadi Ahmed has been suffering a cancer in her stomach and intestines since two years ago. She lies on a bed in the center to receive a chemotherapy IV after she went into a surgery to eradicate the tumor weeks ago.

"I travelled from Hajjah province to Sanaa to treat my daughter at the center after medics in Hajjah hospital confirmed she has cancer in her stomach," Hadi, the father of Badriyah, said.

Hadi and his eight-member family have been displaced from their village in northwestern province of Hajjah since late 2016 due to the ongoing war in joint border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

"We are displaced family after airstrikes hit my village, Al-Madafin, which is near Saudi Arabia border ... we were forced to flee to nearby Washahah district which is also in Hajjah," the father of Badriyah told Xinhua at the oncology center.

He recalled that his 17-year-old brother Qayed had been killed and several members of his family and relatives wounded in what he said "that air attack in late 2016."

Al-Madafin village and Washahah district are located to the south of Medi and Haradh front lines, where daily clashes between Yemeni Houthi rebels and Saudi border guards have been going on since 2015.

"In Washahah district, Badriyah has got severe stomachache," the father said, adding that "months later, it was confirmed Badriyah has cancer."

"I have now to travel from Hajjah to Sanaa every month to keep treating Badriyah...I'm a poor villager with no money or job and I have to buy all her medicines from private pharmacies," he complained.

Mohammed al-Mahfadi, the information and public relations official of the National Oncology Center said the center has recorded "60,077 confirmed cases since 2004."

"The mortality rate from cancer cases have been appallingly increasing over the past three years," al-Mahfadi said. "The 56-bed center receives up to 500 new confirmed cases each month, with which it can't cope with due to lack of medicines, beds, medics and modern medical equipment," he added.

"The center receives some support from international aid agencies, such as expensive chemical medicines and fuel to keep electricity on, but this is not enough," al-Mahfadi told Xinhua.

Al-Mahfadi said most of the cancer patients were children who came from far provinces of Hajjah, Saada, Hodeidah and Bayda.

According to recent data by the World Health Organization (WHO), around 35,000 people have cancer in Yemen, with 11,000 new confirmed cases each year. Many of them are children.

United Nations humanitarian agencies have warned that the Yemeni health centers are near collapse suffering from acute shortage of medicine supplies, fuel, as well as salary cut of state medical cadres as the civil war and all-out blockade near their four-year mark.

The war has killed more than 10,000 Yemenis, mostly civilians, and displaced over three million others, according to the UN.

Nearly 25 million Yemenis have no access to clean drinking water since the war erupted.

Yemen, the poorest Arab country, is now on the brink of mass famine, with about half of the children under five chronically malnourished, and possible "third wave" of cholera epidemic is looming after the disease has already killed 2,300 people, mostly children, the UN has warned.

Still, there is no sign of a quick end to the war, despite the peacemaking efforts made by the UN, the latest of which was the last week Geneva talks that collapsed after Houthi rebels refused to attend.

In the opposite bed, a four-year-old boy Hadhir Ahmed Mukbil has been suffering from cancer in his lymphoma.

Mukbil came from Radaa city in the southeast province of Bayda. His father Ahmed said he sold jewelry he gave as a gift to his wife on the eve of their wedding to buy medicines for their son Hadhir.

"The prices of medicines in the private pharmacies outside the center have doubled four times after the local currency rial has lost its value against the U.S. dollar since the beginning of the war," the father of Hadhir said.

"I have lost my job due to the ongoing clashes around Radda between the rival forces... I have sold all my wife jewelry for treating my son and now I have no money and his weekly medicines cost 110,000 rials each week (200 U.S. dollars)," said Ahmed, the father of Hadhir.

Yahya al-Jawfi, senior doctor at the center, who oversees chemotherapy treatment for Hadhir, Badriyah and dozens of other children, women and men, said the number of diagnosed cancer patients is increasing for many possible reasons.

"There were many possible causes behind the cancer, including the exposure to radiation resulted from the explosion of prohibited cluster bombs and pollution of the air from the gunpowder of ground clashes, lack of clean drinking water and food and agricultural chemical pesticides," doctor al-Jawfi said.

"Economic blockade has hindered the entry of medicines imports ... and of course the war has also triggered a rapid local currency deterioration...all these points cause most patients, particularly children, to die in silence," he said. 

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