Inability to treat cancer in al-Hasakah; “Autonomous Administration” starts late

A child with cancer in the northeastern city of al-Hasakah - May 11, 2023 (Facebook/Syrian Society for Child Cancer Treatment and Care)

A child with cancer in the northeastern city of al-Hasakah - May 11, 2023 (Facebook/Syrian Society for Child Cancer Treatment and Care)

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Al-Hasakah – Majd al-Salem

Cancer patients of all ages in al-Hasakah governorate, northeastern Syria, face the challenges of exorbitant costs and methods of securing treatment in light of the deteriorating economic and living conditions.

Ahmad al-Mohammad, 55, a leukemia patient who is based in an area controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), is forced to travel from the town of al-Shaddadi to Damascus from time to time to receive treatment that is not available nearby.

Al-Mohammad, who has been suffering from cancer for about eight years, told Enab Baladi that he travels long and exhausting distances and incurs exorbitant financial costs to obtain free medicine and doses at Al-Biruni Hospital in the capital.

Al-Mohammad receives two types of treatment, namely medication (pills) and radioactive chemotherapy, which is not always available within al-Hasakah governorate, which pushes him to travel the exhausting distance from his city towards Damascus.

He added that he needs to go to Al-Biruni Hospital once a month to receive treatment, and there may be medicines in some hospitals and local associations in al-Hasakah, but that is only once a year and is not within everyone’s reach due to nepotism and corruption in the region, as “every employee informs those he knows immediately.” The unavailability of medicine prevents many from obtaining it, as the quantities are few and insufficient,” he said.

Living situation challenges

Every time al-Mohammed travels to Damascus, he pays about 100,000 Syrian pounds (back and forth) as fares for the road only, in addition to other expenses such as transportation within the capital and overnight expenses.

According to what he said, he considers himself better off than others because he can travel to Damascus without the need for an escort like others, which doubles the costs for them.

He added that reaching Al-Biruni Hospital after financial and physical hardship does not mean obtaining free treatment, as some medicines may not be available in the hospital, which requires buying them from abroad at a very high price.

“I need a medicine box that contains 30 pills per month, and its price is about half a million Syrian pounds, in addition to the required analyzes once every three months, at the cost of 120,000 Syrian pounds for one analysis inside Al-Biruni Hospital and 475,000 Syrian pounds outside it in a private laboratory,” al-Mohammed said.

Local associations, simple aid

Regarding the role of associations that deal with cancer patients in the region, al-Mohammad indicated that the assistance they provide is simple, insufficient, and irregular.

He said that the most recent aid he received from an association was an amount of 25,000 Syrian pounds (less than $2), which was spent only once.

($1=15,300 SYP) according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar.

Those seeking help from associations are always refused because there is not enough budget to provide medicines or support patients.

Ameen Abdul-Qader Abdo, an administrator in the administration of the Al-Ameen Association for Supporting Cancer Patients in Qamishli, told Enab Baladi that the problem of cancer patients in the Syrian Jazira lies in the lack of specialized, qualified, and large centers to care for them, similar to those in Damascus.

The administrator of the Association for Child Cancer Patients in the AANES regions added that the prices of medicines vary from case to case, but they are generally high and start at 150,000 SYP.

According to the treatment protocol, it may require that the dose be foreign, which forces the patient to pay for it in dollars, and there is difficulty in importing this type of medicine.

Ameen Abdul-Qader Abdo – Administrator at the Al-Ameen Association concerned with cancer patients in Qamishli

Among the difficulties that patients face is also the existence of a specific time for taking the dose, which forces patients to pay the price of the medicine at any price, according to Abdo.

He added that the Al-Ameen Association deals with sick children only and is funded by donations from “good people and white hands.”

As a result of the weak capabilities and the inability to provide the necessary devices for overnight patients, the association is relying on the referral system, bearing in mind that some patients need seven or eight doses, depending on the body’s endurance.

The patient is referred to a doctor cooperating with the association, who in turn communicates with another doctor in Damascus to complete the treatment, according to Abdo.

Hussein Radwan, 51, the father of a child who has been suffering from cancer for a few years, told Enab Baladi that he and his family live on the brink of the abyss with his constant endeavor to secure health care for his child.

He added that he and his family often find themselves facing the “harsh reality” of unaffordable medical expenses, which makes him feel helpless and anxious about his child’s future.

“It is unfortunate that the patients’ families have turned into beggars at the doors of associations in order to secure treatment and obtain financial support, no matter how simple and insignificant.”

Hussein Radwan – Father of a child with cancer

Radwan said that the associations or individual initiatives work hard to help them, but they suffer from a lack of support, which makes their work often limited to recreational activities for sick children, distributing clothes, and other activities that do not radically affect the treatment journey for children or alleviate the suffering of their families.

Moves by “Autonomous Administration”

In mid-July, Raqqa Civil Council’s Health Committee opened a center for treating cancerous tumors in Raqqa Hospital.

According to the pro-AANES Hawar News Agency, the center is the first of its kind in northeastern Syria, as it offers oncology treatment free of charge to patients, with the aim of reducing the burden of treatment for them. The center is staffed by a medical staff consisting of 24 specialists in treating oncology.

The director of the center, Ahin Mohammad, told Hawar that the center has registered 130 sick cases from various regions of the Autonomous Administration.

She added that the center provides “the patient with the examination, pathological diagnosis, analyzes, and scheduling of therapeutic doses free of charge.”

It includes several departments, including nursing, anesthesia, oncology, psychological support for health education, pharmacy, and a coordination office in order to deal with associations and humanitarian organizations to secure treatments.

The center provides different types of chemical doses: “Methotrexate, Celine, Kaka Aplan, Cytarabine, Aromasin, Etoposide and Flu Green,” and work is underway to secure a larger number of doses, according to the director.

In the city of Qamishli, the AANES-run Red Crescent announced last April the imminent opening of a center for the treatment of cancer patients, as well as a hospital for the treatment of burns.

The aforementioned hospital is located near Al-Sina’a Bus station and close to the Heart and Eye Hospital, east of Qamishli city, but it was not announced that it would start receiving patients until the date of publishing this report.

No official statistics are available for the number of people with cancer in al-Hasakah governorate, with different authorities in it between the government of the Syrian regime and the Autonomous Administration.

In 2020, the Syrian Society for the Treatment of Children’s Cancer opened a center for it in the city of al-Hasakah.

The head of the association’s board of directors, Dr. Muzna Olabi, told the official Syrian News Agency (SANA) that the center was opened at the headquarters of the “Modern Medical Center” in the city of al-Hasakah to provide all the medical services needed by oncology patients.

She added that the association will open another branch for cancer treatment in the health zone in the city of Qamishli.

 

 

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