Malignant diseases are a threat to the poor [Archives:2007/1108/Health]

December 3 2007
Chronic cutaneous coccidioidomycosis showing granulomatous lesions on face, neck and chin.
Chronic cutaneous coccidioidomycosis showing granulomatous lesions on face, neck and chin.
Hamed Thabet
Health specialists say poor Yemenis suffering malignant diseases can't afford the treatment costs, which worsens their conditions. Currently, approximately 40,000 Yemeni citizens are suffering from cancerous tumors, while government hospitals lack proper treatment for them. Hamed Thabet reports.

“Here in Yemen, huge numbers, especially the poor, suffer various life-threatening diseases, but can't afford treatment at government hospitals. They also suffer due to lack of proper education and information about these diseases,” says Afif Al-Nabihi, director of Yemen's Cancer Fighting Association.

Dr. Assam Khalifah, manager of the blood bank at Kuwait Hospital in Sana'a, explains, “Blood diseases often can become blood cancer if patients don't receive treatment early. The main problem is that patients go to the hospital only after their disease has reached its final stages. Moreover, medications for these diseases are unavailable in Yemen, which is why many patients die without receiving any medical treatment.”

He continues, “Diagnosing such diseases also is a major problem in Yemen due to doctors not having new technological equipment necessary to diagnose patients. Additionally, some medicines, such as tranquilizers, are used for blood cancers and HIV; however, they're too expensive for Yemenis, so they're not useful.”

Al-Nabihi notes, “It's important to give more attention to Yemeni patients because they really are suffering many different diseases, especially tumors. Approximately 40,000 Yemenis – and maybe more – have cancerous tumors. Anemia also can develop into blood cancer if not diagnosed and treated early.”

He continues, “The problem here in Yemen is that we don't have enough laboratories that can diagnose such diseases at an early stage and our staff really aren't qualified to take on this responsibility. I wish our staff could receive modern training and education in diagnosing and understanding these diseases before they reach the final stages.

“Despite the fact that we don't have modern, well-equipped labs or qualified staff in our hospitals, the examinations for diseases like blood cancer, anemia, AIDS and many fungal diseases aren't free, but Yemeni patients are too poor to pay for them. Additionally, the medicines we have are expensive, so their effectiveness toward these diseases isn't as useful as it should be,” Al-Nabihi explains.

Ahmed Al-Ansi, director of Al-Thawra Hospital in Sana'a, says, “Because we don't have good treatment for tumorous diseases, anemia, fungal diseases and HIV, Yemenis are compelled to travel to other countries for treatment. However, not all have the means to travel outside, so for this reason, mortality rates and suffering are high.”

On the other hand, he commented, “Modernizing equipment and training staff are the first areas on which to focus. Aside from profit, I wish pharmaceutical companies first and foremost would see to the quality of the medicine they supply and which medication will benefit patients because many such companies are producing useless medicines.”

Saleh Al-Raimi, general manager of the new Blue Sky pharmaceutical company in Yemen (known as Gilead in the United States), notes, “In the past, HIV was kept a secret for security reasons and anyone who tried to talk about it surely would be in trouble. Fortunately, things have changed today. There are studies about the disease and it is receiving more attention by governments and various organizations.”

The Yemeni government is doing its best to contain HIV and AIDS by focusing on its borders and airports to ban and stop anyone with AIDS from entering the country. It also is holding programs to enlighten and educate citizens about the dangers of AIDS, Al-Raimi notes.

So far, 2,136 AIDS cases officially are registered in Yemen. Regardless, another doctor confirms anonymously, “The number of those with AIDS in Yemen is much more than that mentioned.”

Al-Raimi explains, “Most Yemeni AIDS patients don't receive proper treatment and their medication is too expensive. Additionally, nearly all HIV medicines are untrustworthy regarding their quality and effect.”

He continues, “Our problem here in Yemen is that AIDS patients can't be part of the community because they are neglected and banished by everyone, even their families. Because of this, we must enlighten Yemeni citizens that only 30 percent of AIDS patients contracted the disease sexually. Others become infected many other ways, such as through blood transfusions, shaving [by shared razors and blades used in barber shops] and other ways.”

However, “Yemen has been given $6 million to help combat AIDS, but to date, none of it has been used in that field. Here in Yemen, we use medicines from India, which aren't useful at all but are cheap,” Al-Raimi admits.

Dr. Sharif Al-Wahab, Blue Sky's Middle East regional director, explains, “Blue Sky, a new company now operating in Yemen, will offer new and standard medication to cure many diseases related to tumors, anemia, fungal diseases, HIV and many other inherent diseases.”

He adds, “Because Yemen is one of the world's poorest countries, our company will provide medication at cheap prices, as the Yemeni government will support it as well.”

He continues, “Gilead is a worldwide leader among pharmaceutical firms and characterized by uniquely innovative research. The company is the most well-known worldwide for its cure for avian influenza.”

Al-Wahab notes that Blue Sky/Gilead also offers HIV medication to treat AIDS, pointing out that “It is considered the topmost pharmaceutical company, producing and conducting much research on HIV. It also cooperates with the World Health Organization to donate and sell HIV drugs to poor countries at a low price and sometimes free of charge.”

The other major medical field that interests Gilead is treating antifungal diseases. “These types of fungus attack patients with low immunity, such as kidney transplant patients, who already suffer low immunity,” Al-Wahab notes.

He goes on, “By authorizing Blue Sky to operate in Yemen, the firm has much to offer in many different fields of medicine that are neglected and ignored by other companies who only care about how to turn a profit in a short time. Furthermore, local agents esteem Blue Sky.”

“It's important to note that our medication can cure and deal with all types of blood cancer.” Moreover, he adds, “The Federal Drug Administration has approved the medicine's capability.”