Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 June 2019

War takes heavy toll on Yemeni cancer patients in Taez

Province's only treatment centre lacks enough beds, staff, equipment and medicines after Houthi shelling and blockade of main city.
A young cancer patient receives treatment at Al Amal Centre in Taez city, which is struggling to keep going after being shelled by Houthi rebels who are also blocking vital medicines and equipment. Courtesy Taha Saleh
A young cancer patient receives treatment at Al Amal Centre in Taez city, which is struggling to keep going after being shelled by Houthi rebels who are also blocking vital medicines and equipment. Courtesy Taha Saleh

ADEN // Cancer patient Nasser Mansour spent eight months waiting for death in Taez after its only treatment centre was destroyed in a rocket strike by Houthi rebels who had also imposed a blockade on the city.

Mr Mansour, 39, had been battling liver cancer for two years and undergoing chemotherapy at Al Amal Centre when the Houthis attacked the facility in July last year.

While there were no casualties from the strike the four-storey building was severely damaged, along with most of the centre’s radiation therapy equipment and medical supplies.

Later that month the centre, which was set up by the government in 2013, managed to reopen in a one-storey building provided by the local council, but with a very limited capacity.

Before last March when the Iran-backed Houthis advanced south, having already seized the capital Sanaa the previous year, the cancer centre had dozens of doctors, 50 beds and could treat 150 patients a day. Now it has five doctors, eight beds and can manage only 40 patients a day. Medical equipment and medicines are in short supply because of a siege imposed by the rebels since last August that has blocked off essential goods, affecting not just the cancer centre but the entire health system in Taez city.

For Mr Mansour and thousands of other cancer patients in Taez province, the rocket strike, the blockade and the continuing battle for control of the provincial capital brought an end to their treatment. Their only hope has been to travel to cancer centres in other provinces, a risky proposition amid Yemen’s civil war, or seek treatment abroad, something most people in the impoverished country cannot afford.

“I do not have money to go to another country for treatment and my health is getting worse every day. I am awaiting death in Taez city – either by the rockets or by cancer,” Mr Mansour told The National in March.

Cancer-related deaths rose nearly three-fold in Taez province last year, from 216 in 2014 to more than 600, according to Mohammed Mahrous, the media officer at Al Amal Centre.

“The war is the main reason behind the increase in casualties,” Mr Mahrous said. Many patients cannot reach the centre, and even if they do, the medicines and radiation therapy machines they need are in short supply.

“We need more chemotherapy medication, and more radiation therapy machines,” he said.

He appealed to international organisations to help cancer patients in the province, whom he estimates to number more than 6,000.

Mr Mansour managed to flee to Sanaa last month to seek treatment there. His brother-in-law travelled down from the capital to take him back, but they had to travel along rough mountain roads because of the rebel blockade of the main routes into and out of Taez city.

Not everyone has been that fortunate.

Ahmed Al Hamadi, 18, died of throat cancer in December after several unsuccessful attempts to reach Al Amal Centre from his village in Al Mawaset district, about 40km from Taez city.

“The last time that Ahmed visited the centre was in May. After that he could not go there to receive chemotherapy because of fierce clashes on the way to Taez,” Ahmed’s brother, Khalid, told The National.

“It was not safe for us to go there, so we stayed in our village.”

Then the doctors at Al Amal told Khalid they had run out of chemotherapy drugs and that he should try to take his brother to another cancer centre.

But the family could not afford to take him to hospitals farther away such as the one in Sanaa, or another in the western port city of Hodeida.

“There wasn’t anything we could do for him,” Khalid said, except pray and watch him die.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Updated: May 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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