Headlines about Syria are often dominated by stories of children killed in shelling. But Syrian children are suffering in other ways, too. The nation’s crumbling health sector has left hundreds of child cancer patients with little or no access to treatment.
Alaa Ebrahim gave us this report from Damascus.
Syrian children with cancer suffer as health sector crumblesHeadlines about Syria are often dominated by stories of children killed in shelling. But Syrian children are suffering in other ways, too. The nation's crumbling health sector has left hundreds of child cancer patients with little or no access to treatment.
The Children’s Hospital of Damascus is one of Syria’s largest public hospitals and one of the few with functioning cancer treatment centers.
Outside on the sidewalk, families wait for hours that quickly become days. Some are waiting for their children to be admitted and others wait for their children who are already inside. Parents have been banned from accompanying their children to avoid overcrowding.
Inside, the picture doesn’t become any brighter. Cancer patients as young as two years of age have little chance of survival. But this doesn’t stop them from being hopeful. Some want to be mothers… some want to be ambulance drivers…
Many parents know that the road to these simple dreams is rougher than their children think.
The mother of Ayoub Al-Allou, who is seven years old and has been receiving treatment for 8 months says the system can’t accomodate their needs.
“Everything is backed up and every time I come, I find that they have admitted new patients. We can’t afford to pay for his treatment so we have to come here,” she says.
Before the war, public hospitals provided free medical care to all cancer patients. But violence isn’t the only thing hitting hospitals hard. The Syrian government says that EU and U.S. sanctions on the country have made the work of public hospitals near impossible.
Dr. Mazen Haddad, Director of General Children’s hospital, says with the sanctions imposed on Syria, they can’t get the medical equipment or medication.
“We can’t get it from Europe, which is where we used to get our supplies. And while public hospitals continue to receive all the cases, we can only provide 50 percent of the needed cancer medication,” said Dr. Haddad. “So we had to ask parents to buy the treatment themselves, though prices have multiplied twenty-fold. We are admitting the children, but we can’t treat them all.”
Many argue that the government is spending on the wrong thing. Children’s hospitals, after all, may not be a priority for a country at war.
Sanctions have affected every aspect of life here. Perhaps this is why activists have launched a campaign to lift the sanctions, with posters spread across the capital.
Activist Aliaa Azzam thinks sanctions have been misdirected and are hurting the wrong people.
“What it really does is make life difficult for everyone in our country,” said Azzam. “The media only cares for children killed in bombardment, but what about those dying in silence?”