Written By: Elena White
Article Date: Jul 5, 2012 - 10:11:28 PM
One of the silent killers of Yemen, cancer claims every year the life of thousands of Yemeni men and women, destroying families indiscriminately. Because of a lack of access to health and widespread poverty, many residents living in remote rural areas will actually never have the luxury to even see a physician let alone be able to get medical treatment.
According to recent study and despite the lack of a national cancer registry, the ministry of health stated that cancer in Yemen was undeniably on the increase, stressing that more than any country in the Arabian Peninsula; Yemenis were developing the deadly disease. Doctor Nawal Ali al-Kawlani told the Yemen Observer that Qat was an important triggering factor in cancers of the mouth and neck as “chewers” were put in contact with dangerous pesticides and chemical residues present on Qat leaves.
“Farmers use dangerous and powerful pesticides on Qat to prevent diseases and parasites from contaminating their crops. Most of those pesticides are actually barred in most country as they pose a danger for humans and can cause cancers. To make matters worse many Yemenis fail to properly wash their Qat before ingesting it, putting their health in serious jeopardy.” She added that only through a national campaign of awareness and a ban on dangerous pesticides could things start to get better. “It is always cheaper to prevent cancer than treat it, especially since relapses are many with cancer patients and treatments costly.”
Moreover, with only one government oncology center, Yemen health services cannot simply cope with the increasing number of patients. Patients have complained that they have to wait often for hours at the Sana’a National Oncology Center – NOC – before receiving their treatments -- radiotherapy, chemotherapy -- Stretch to the limit doctors have to push hard to get through the long line of patients, having to often rush through patient care to get to their next case.
“It is very difficult because we cannot spend as much time as we would like on reassuring patients or answering their questions…we need more staff and more centers,” said a doctor under cover of anonymity to the Yemen Observer. Back in 2008 Nadeem Mohammed Saeed, the director of the NOC, said the Centre already lacked equipment, staff and medicine and could not address the needs of the increasing number of patients.
“There is a lot of pressure on the Centre as we receive patients from all over the country. We have only one radiotherapy machine that operates 14 hours a day to provide services to 120 patients per day. We are overcrowded and short of some facilities and machines which affect the quality of our services as well as cause patients to wait longer.
Patients can get chemotherapy treatment in a week or so but for radiotherapy, they have to wait between three to four weeks. Four years of neglect and an economic crisis have done nothing to improve the situation. As Yemen kick started its campaign against cancer last week, Doctor Ahmed al-Ansi, the Minister of Public Health and Population said that “The government can only provide 20 percent of the value of cancer patients` drugs to in Yemen due to poor economic conditions.”
He added that Yemen needed to align itself on other countries in the region and enroll the community as well as charitable organizations to palliate to this finding crisis.
The minister was keen to stress that although the government needed of course to inject more money into cancer treatments and patients care, Yemen as a society needed also to mobilize its resources and address the issue. Minister al-Ansi called on Yemenis to support the work of Yemen National Foundation for Cancer.
The minister also recognized the need for Yemen to establish more oncology centers across the provinces to provide Yemenis with local access to treatment and hence better care.
He announced that the government had deiced to finance the creation of three new centers in Tai, Hadramaut and Ibb. Abdul-WasiHayel, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Foundation for Cancer explained just how important Yemen’s new national campaign for cancer truly was, saying he was hoping Yemenis would mobilize around the state and support the health minister’s efforts in raising funds and promoting awareness.
Hayel told the press the foundation now aimed to provide better and more comprehensive health services to cancer patients by investing in state of the art equipment and concentrating in early detection of tumors.
The chairman actually announced that the foundation would soon open an oncology center in Taiz specializing in tumors as well as a breast cancer center in Ibb. Doctor al-Kawlani stressed that Yemen needed to step up its efforts towards early detection of cancers.
“A majority of cases are diagnosed once the disease has spread to other organs, which leaves patients with a very low survival rate. The only way to do this is through awareness campaigns. Yemenis need to understand the disease.” According to the national database 20,000 people get cancer every year with 70 percent being diagnosed in stages 3 and 4.
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