5000 cancer patients seeking treatment abroadYemen’s battle against cancer [Archives:2005/836/Health]

April 25 2005

By Amal Mohammed Al-Ariqi
For The Yemen Times

Cancer is one of the most dangerous fatal diseases, and its impact is aggravated in a third world country like Yemen.

This disease threatens Yemen as it does any other country, however, unlike the other countries Yemen is ill-prepared to face the problem and the situation could turn into a disaster.

Reports of specialized institutions estimate that there are around 5000 Yemenis who travel abroad for cancer treatment every year. Although there are no exact numbers, the estimates indicate that there is a large cancer problem in Yemen.

Considering the level of life and spread of poverty many patients are forced to sell their property in order to cover the expense of expensive treatments, which include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. This affects the economic life of people, but also on a national level the country loses large amounts of hard currency that could have been invested in Yemen.

The government, represented by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has become concerned with the situation and has met with many Yemeni businessmen, scientific and social personalities, and realized the importance of establishing a national charity concerned with cancer.

Consequently, many studies have been made available to the public through the media, to show that cancer usually develops gradually over many years as a result of a complex mix of environmental, nutritional, behavioral and hereditary factors.

Scientists do not yet completely understand what causes cancer, but they know that certain lifestyle choices can dramatically reduce the risk of developing most types of cancer. For example, not smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising moderately for at least 30 minutes each day reduces the risk of cancer by more than 60 percent. Moreover, many studies have warned about the risks of the extreme use of the herbicides in agriculture, which most of the time are not legal as they are smuggled into the country. Yemeni farmers use herbicides for Qat, vegetables, and fruits plantation in a careless way.

These studies and the current circumstances motivated all concerned bodies to integrate their efforts. The first step was establishing the “Charity Establishment for the Support of Cancer Patients Centers”. This charity was established in 2003 and is headed by the well-known businessman Abdul Was'e Hail Saeed. The establishment aims to support centers specialized in cancer, to provide medicines and equipment. The establishment also plans to adopt awareness projects about cancer.

Additionally, the establishment's projects are financed by the businesses behind the establishment of the charity as well as other sources from individuals, governmental organizations and charities. Among the donations made was the grant from President Ali Abdullah Saleh of YR 500,000,000).

The establishment will organize several medical conferences and events in which international specialists from Egypt, Jordon, and Canada will participate to encourage volunteers and qualified specialists to work in the establishment.

Prior to the establishment of the Charity Establishment for the Support of Cancer Patients Centers, the National Committee for Atomic Energy had been working in this field since 1998, when it launched its battle against cancer and sent a group of doctors, physicians, technicians, and experts to learn from international experiences of planning standards in cancer centers. They established the National Oncology Center (NOC) affiliated with the al-Gomhri Hospital.

The NOC is the result of the combined efforts of the charity establishment, the Atomic Energy Committee, Public Health and Population Ministry, and Municipality, in addition to individual charitable contributions. The medical equipment and requirements cost YR 150,000,000, and the cost of medicines was about YR 120,000,000.

The center, which was inaugurated on April 20, under the patronage of the Prime Minster, and the Minster of Public Health and Population, consists of a Chemotherapy Section, a Radiation Therapy Section, and a Treatment Planning Section. According to statistics received by the Yemen Times, the center already receives more than 62 patients each day for radiation therapy, and the external clinics receive around 40 cases daily. Considering that the capacity of the center at this stage is 46 beds, this means that at least 270 patients cases will be waiting for treatment.

Dr. Bleqis Abo Lohom, manager of Quality Section, told the Yemen Times that the center receives different kinds of cancer patients (Bladder Carcinoma, Brain Tumor, Breast cancer tc). However, what makes the situation more difficult is that most of the patients are quite poor.

Dr. Nadeem Mohammed Saeed, manager of NOC, emphasized the need for expanding the center and providing it with equipment and medicine to enable it to treat the patients and deal with different types of tumors. He added that the medical staff, which consists of ten Yemeni doctors, who have been trained in different countries including Pakistan and some European countries. The advantage of employing Yemeni doctors according to Dr Nadeem, is that it prevents any interruption in the absence of foreign doctors, and Yemeni doctors know the lifestyle, eating habits, and environment of Yemeni patients.

Dr. Nadeem considers such centers a national investment, because it saves tens of thousands of dollars from being spent outside the country. It would attract patients who be treated in their country instead of traveling outside.

He confessed that the center is not able to do high-risk operations, such as brain surgery, in which case, patients must still travel abroad for treatment. However, by using radiation treatment and chemotherapy the center is likely to be able to help 85 percent of patients.

Dr. Mostafa Bahran, manager of Atomic Committee, said that there is need more than one center, and more are going to be built in Mukala, Taiz, and Aden.

The Prime Minister, Abdulqader Bajmal, stressed the importance of studying the reasons behind the increased rate of tumors and cancer patients. He also highlighted the role of legislation in preventing extreme behavior against the environment that subjects people's health to danger. He referred to the legal procedures against those who use the herbicides exceedingly.

Constructing the NOC and the “Charity Establishment for the Support of Cancer Patient Center”, are considered an important step, but there is a lot more to be done to face this disease, which does not distinguish between young or old, man or woman, poor or rich. The efforts of the doctors, researchers, businesspeople, local councils, and the media must be combined in this pursuit.