Syrian Children with Cancer: Alone in the Face of War
The war in Syria has allocated a still larger portion of pain to children with cancer, along with suffering and limited chances of getting treatment and being cured. Accordingly, the healing’s percentage in Syria became less than 20 percent while it reaches 80 percent in developed countries according to the World Health Organization.
In besieged regions, the suffering of children who have cancer doubles and the catastrophe enlarges turning those children into the weakest element in the Syrian society, the most harmed section.
The persistence of the siege and preventing the entry of medications to Eastern Ghouta stole from children with cancer their right to be treated and cured.
Farah, only ten months old girl with acute lymphocytic leukaemia died last August as a result of the absent cancer medications in Ghouta.
Kinan, a six months old boy, also died due to acute leukaemia and because the Syrian regime did not allow his parents to get him out of Ghouta to have a proper treatment. His case was 90 percent curable, according to Dr. Wissam al-Riz, who supervised Kinan’s case and the Director of ‘Dar Al-Rahma Center for Cancer’ (The Home of Mercy for Cancer), the only center specialized in tumours’ treatment in the entire of Eastern Ghouta.
In Ghouta, many cases are waiting for urgent treatment amidst increasing demands for medicines or safe corridors to get out of the region.
Even though people with cancer have registered their names on the Red Crescent lists asking for an immediate evacuation from Ghouta, their demands have not been answered so far, according to Dr. Wisam’s explanation to Enab Baladi.
The lack of medicines, she added, also affected cancer’s detection ratios. The lack of certain medical substances in some of the specialized laboratories minimized the number of tests conducted on children, which contributed to a late detection of cancer.
200 Endangered Children
Concerning childhood cancer’s ratios in Eastern Ghouta, Dr. Wisam said that 18 to 20 percent in 1200 case of cancer in the entirety of Ghouta are children, about 210 children.
Some of these children died, the doctor said, others are totally cured or under supervision. She also pointed out that with the siege becoming harder and the increasing prevention of medicines, the people, under treatment, are fundamentally endangered. Suhad, the two years old girl, is one of the patients who improved a lot throughout a one-year curative journey. For a whole year, Suhad suffered due to her young age and weak body. When she was about to get her health back, the last dose of treatment was not available. Her life was at a risk again.
The doctor also mentioned that lately there was a rise in the percentage of children who are relapsing, especially in regions near the capital city, Damascus, due to the intensive shelling they are receiving from the Assad’s forces.
Before intensifying the siege, the doctor said, the recovery rate reached a remarkable 37 percent.
No Cure for Daraa
In Daraa, in the southern part of Syria, cancer’s dilemma is just the same or even more cruel for the governorate lacks cancer’s center. There, the patients are forced to go to the regions under the Syrian regime to have the needed treatment, despite the different difficulties and security issues which the shift includes.
Two years ago, some individual efforts managed to establish ‘George Samara Association for Cancer Patients’ in Daraa.
As for the services which the association offers, Mousa Abazaid, a supervisor, says that they are seeking to provide the cost of the doses required for patients. However, these doses are not available in the liberated regions.
Most of the cancer patients, he added, are in a difficult financial situation because the disease forces them to pay a lot _ the price of a single dose ranges from 75 to 250 thousand Syrian pounds.
He also pointed out to the fact that war has negatively affected cancer patients who used to be offered a free of charge treatment by the government. Today, medications are limited to the regions under the Syrian regime control.
No Centers for cancer in Idlib
Idlib, a governorate in northwestern Syria, represents the darkest face of the disease; it has no chemotherapy centers and totally lacks medicines.
Doctor Mohammed al-Omar, a paediatric, told Enab Baladi that there are no exact statistics about the disease and that centers specialized for cancer patients are available only in the regions under the Syrian regime control, where antiviral drugs are available: Damascus, Aleppo and Lattakia.
As for the opposition-held regions, there are no centers, not even a center for diagnosing the disease.
Even in the regions under the Syrian regime, centers do not offer patients all types of the needed medications. The thing which forces people to buy them from the black market.
Usually, cancer patients, the doctor added, are transferred to regions under the Syrian regime. As for those, who have security issues or do not have any official documents, they are turned to neighbouring countries for treatment (Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan). The people who cannot reach neighbouring countries suffer a lot, and many children died for not getting any treatment at all.
The Most Common Types of Cancer
On childhood cancer’s most common types, he said that ‘acute lymphocyte leukemia’ is the most recurrent disease in medical practice; it affects children between one and five years old, in addition to neurological and bone cancers.
About recovery, the patient is considered as clean of cancer if his or her life continues for five years after the disease is detected and treated. The recovery period is relative; sometimes it can be total, some patients might fall into coma, some might not heal or respond to the treatment.
Concerning early detection, the doctor said that it could be attained through laboratory analysis and accurate clinical examination and supervision.
About the importance of early detection, he said that it reduces complications and prolongs children’s comfort time.
On its turn, early treatment delays death and sometimes prolongs the diseases stability period with the possibility of relapse.
In relation to the prevention of cancer, the doctor said that usually this practice is connected to avoiding the reasons of the disease. However, the factors leading to cancer are still unknown and now, under the war, it is certain that the circumstances we are living are due to explosive materials which contain radioactive substances.
During clinical examinations, the doctor said that he noted strange cases and the appearance of more illnesses, deformities, and cancers during the war, which have not been detected in the times of peace. He also stressed the importance of avoiding radioactive factors as much as possible.
Free of Charge Medicine and Treatment for Syrian Cancer Patients
‘Amal Association for Cancer’ (Hope Association) is one of the active associations in the field of treating cancer patients and providing them with free medicine.
Dr. Abdel Rahman Zeno, the Chairman of the association, in an interview with Enab Baladi said that “Amal association is a scientific research association that treats and helps cancer patients who are forgotten even by international and UN’s associations. It is a registered association in Turkey with five branches and other three branches in Syria.”
The association includes more than 100 doctors and researchers, in addition to 150 volunteers and staff members. It helps patients, shelters them, provides them with food, free medicines and facilitates their journey from Syria; it offers services for hundreds of patients in different centers and cities.
A Glimmer of Hope
Mahmoud is one of the children who volunteered in the association, where he has been treated and fully recovered.
Mahmoud told Enab Baladi about his victory over cancer and how he succeeded in vanquishing the diseases which lasted for five years.
In a message to cancer patients, Mahmoud said that “I recovered from cancer with hope, smiling and high spirits. My message to all is to have hope and confidence, as well as to continue the treatment and never be scared or give up.”