Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

Sanctions hinder imports

Six years of conflict have brought the Syrian health service, once one of the best in the Middle East, close to collapse. Fewer than half of the country's hospitals are fully functioning. Around 200 children visit the Children's Hospital in Damascus every week, with more than 70 percent from outside the capital.

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

Foreign firms remain wary

Young cancer patients wait for treatment at Damascus Children's Hospital. Local and World Health Organization officials blame Western sanctions for severely restricting pharmaceutical imports, even though medical supplies are largely exempt from measures imposed by the United States and European Union.

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

State spending cuts

Cuts in health expenditure by the Syrian government fighting a hugely expensive war, a drastic fall in the value of the currency and indirect effects of the sanctions are all deepening the misery of patients who need foreign-made drugs. Before the conflict, Syria produced 90 percent of the medicines it needed but anti-cancer drugs were among those where it traditionally relied on imports.

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

Cuts in Syria's health budget

Nurses taking care of a sick child. The World Health Organization in Syria, says medicine imports have been hit by significant cuts in the government's health budget since the war began in 2011. Adding up tot hat is a 90 percent drop in the value of the Syrian pound, which has made some pharmaceuticals prohibitively expensive.

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

More than a lack of cash

"The impact of economic sanctions imposed on Syria heavily affected the procurement of some specific medicine including anti-cancer medicines," says Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO representative in Syria. "The sanctions were preventing many international pharmaceutical companies from dealing with the Syrian authorities as well as hindering foreign banks in handling payments for imported drugs."

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

Patients waiting for treatment

Cancer patient Fahd plays with his mobile phone while his mother sits by his bed. Both the U.S. and EU sanctions include exemptions for medicines and other humanitarian supplies. However, by clamping down on financial transactions and barring much business with the Syrian government, the sanctions are indirectly affecting trade in pharmaceuticals.

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

Delays in treatment

One private charity, Basma, is trying to help out by funding cancer drugs for poor families. The proportion of patients who need assistance has risen from about 30 percent to nearly 80 percent since the war began, according to executive manager Rima Salem. Salem finds the delays in treatment worrying. "A child with cancer might die waiting for his turn to get treatment," she said.

In the cancer ward at Damascus Children's Hospital, doctors are struggling with a critical shortage of specialist drugs to treat their young patients - and it's not just due to the general chaos of the Syrian civil war.