Chemicals and tobacco are increasing cancers in Yemen [Archives:2008/1184/Health]

August 25 2008

Mahmoud Assamei
Every nation has its own particular reasons and/or factors behind increasing incidences of cancer. In Yemen, chemicals or pesticides used in farming and tobaccos are the main factors in increasing cancer cases, doctors say.

They warn that using tobacco, whether it is smoked or smokeless tobacco such as shamma, which is placed under the tongue or between the lips and gums, coupled with the unregulated use of chemicals in irrigation are factors in the spread of various cancers and other diseases among Yemenis.

Officials and specialists maintain that such chemicals enter the country both legally and illegally, but that the Yemeni government has failed to control them to the degree that they have become used on all farms.

Dr. Mohammed Kedesi, radiation oncologist at the National Oncology Center in Sana'a, said, “We've recently noticed a horrible phenomenon of increased instances of cancer among Yemenis, although the disease isn't new in this country.

“The international cancer rate is between 80 and 120 cases among every 100,000 people, but that figure is increasing in under-developing countries, including Yemen,” Kedesi noted.

He revealed that tobacco use is responsible for 30 percent of cancer cases in Yemen, adding that, “Most Yemenis afflicted with cancer are from Hodeidah governorate because of the bad habit of shamma usage.” He pointed out that tobacco contains more than 40,000 toxic substances, 40 of which cause cancer.

Concerning pesticides and chemicals, Kedesi says such substances are a catastrophe in Yemen because of their widespread use and misuse.

Yemeni farmers use such chemicals to make their plant products grow faster, thereby making more profits without considering the possible bad outcomes or catastrophes resulting from such action.

As Kedesi explains, “The problem is that farmers use huge quantities of pesticides in qat farming. Some of these chemicals either have expired or are banned internationally, which causes a catastrophe for Yemen.”

He added, “We've received many cases of those suffering various blood cancers due to spraying plants with such chemicals. Children who work on farms are more vulnerable to blood cancer because they're still growing.”

Kedesi confirmed that the oncology center receives 25 new cancer cases every day. Most cancers among men, such as mouth, neck and tongue cancers, could result from their addiction to tobacco and chewing or eating plants sprayed with chemicals.

In an interview, the center's director, Nadeem Mohammed Sa'eed, told BBS that several pesticides are toxic and their prolonged use could cause serious diseases, including cancer.

“As a result of the use of pesticides for qat and vegetable cultivation, about 30 percent of Yemeni cancer patients have mouth and gum cancers. This is really a frightening figure and it represents one of the world's highest rates for mouth and gum cancers,” Sa'eed noted.

Ahmad Al-Basheh, vice chairman of Yemen's Standardization, Metrology and Quality Organization, says many goods enter the country illegally, including chemicals.

Although it has offices in the nation's main outlets, the organization isn't responsible for investigating chemicals and pesticides; rather, the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and the Industrial Ministry are responsible for this.

“Our job begins when we're notified of illegal or dangerous products on the market. We then go to the market to investigate such products,” Al-Basheh explained, noting that his organization conducts relatively few investigation campaigns of factories and retail stores.

Because the National Oncology Center is the only center treating and investigating cancer cases in Yemen, many people still await treatment and investigation.

Cancer patients in Yemen suffer shortage of medications and many require care at the center, but cannot gain access because of crowded rooms and no more beds due to the increasing number of cancer cases in Yemen and only one specialized center in Sana'a.

Newlywed Hana'a Al-Hashedi suffers kidney, lung and liver cancer. Her husband, Abdu Qaid, is at the oncology center seeking medicine for his wife, whom he married just a year ago.

He explains, “My wife stays at home because we can't access a bed at the center. Doctors tell us there are no more beds, so they direct us to wait. The center can't give my wife all of the medicine she needs, which is now two syringes every day at a cost of YR 10,000 each.”

Another patient, Najibah Muthanna, is awaiting chemotherapy for stomach and ovarian cancer.

“My wife Najibah is at our home awaiting chemotherapy there. We've waited months to gain access to the center, which is why I'm here today following up this purpose,” her husband explained.

Najeeb Al-Qadasi, the oncology center's director of inspection and control, agrees with these patients' statements, relating the reasons to the large number of cancer patients coming from across the nation's governorates to the sole center in Sana'a.

“Our center receives 400 cancer patients every month, which is causing heavy pressure on it,” Al-Qadasi notes.

Concerning medicine shortages, he points out that cancer medicines are very expensive, coupled with the fact that the receipt of the center's medical purchases often are delayed, which causes a disruption in providing patients their necessary medicines.

The Yemen Times exerted many efforts in an attempt to get an answer from concerned bodies about the nationwide spread of chemicals and their unregulated and random use in Yemen, but received no cooperation from such bodies.

Yemen's Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation refused to comment on the reason for the existence of large quantities of banned chemicals entering the nation both legally and illegally.