An NGO gives adult cancer patients in Lebanon a vital lifeline

Thousands of skilled Lebanese workers, notably medical professionals, have left the country and the health sector is on the brink of collapse. (AFP)
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Updated 06 November 2021
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An NGO gives adult cancer patients in Lebanon a vital lifeline

  • Cancer patients face “astronomical” costs and difficulty securing medication amid the country’s grinding financial crisis
  • Established in 2018, the Cancer Support Fund provides support to adult patients who cannot afford treatment

DUBAI: Living conditions in Lebanon have deteriorated steadily since mid-2019 when the country began experiencing severe economic and financial problems, which have since been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 Beirut port blast.

The meltdown has led to shortages of essential commodities, including fuel, and resulted in an unprecedented power crisis. Consequently, thousands of skilled Lebanese workers, notably medical professionals, have left the country and the health sector is on the brink of collapse.

Under the circumstances, Lebanon’s cancer patients are facing an uphill struggle to access even the most basic medicines and treatments, frequently having to take whatever medication is readily available regardless of the side effects.




Cancer Support Fund was launched to specifically support Lebanon’s underprivileged adult cancer patients. (AFP)

Enter the Cancer Support Fund. Established in 2018 at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, it has given many a Lebanese in dire straits a timely and vital lifeline.

Hala Dahdah Abou Jaber, CSF’s founder and president, told Arab News the NGO was launched to specifically support Lebanon’s underprivileged adult cancer patients.

Despite the many cancer-related NGOs operating in the country, Abou Jaber says the adult demographic is often underserved, as the majority of charities are targeted at children.

“There was a necessity and an urge to help adult cancer patients, and when we say an adult, it could be a young boy who is 18 or 19, a mother who is 25 or 30, a father who is 50 years old, or simply an 80-year-old woman who also deserves a chance to live,” she said.

The extreme hardship endured by Dina Itani is a case in point. The South Lebanon resident chokes back tears as she recounts how the overlapping crises buffeting her country have disrupted her cancer treatment

On top of fighting the disease, she and her family must also contend with chronic shortages of vital medication.

A sudden onset of eyesight deterioration about two years ago made Itani realize that something was wrong with her health. When an ophthalmologist could not find anything wrong with her eyes, he requested a brain scan, which detected a tumor.

She underwent surgery to remove the tumor, but a biopsy showed the lump was cancerous. Itani was told she would have to undergo further treatment to prevent the cancer from spreading. “I have melanoma cancer,” Itani told Arab News.

“It’s a type of skin cancer but in my case, it’s appearing in my internal organs. I underwent brain surgery in Beirut. For a year now I have been redoing diagnostic imaging every three months.”

Despite treatment, Itani’s cancer soon spread to the bone in her right arm, forcing her to undergo another surgery to install a metal plate. She was also put on a course of immunotherapy with a drug called Opdivo. “They gave me the injection every 15 days,” she said.

However, the medical subsidies allotted through Lebanon’s social security system were not enough to cover the cost of Opdivo.

According to Drugs.com, an independent medicine information website, the price of the intravenous solution ranges from $1,189 per 4ml to $7,087 per 24ml infusion in the US. Based on Lebanon’s current minimum wage, it would be almost impossible for the average household to cover such a cost.

“The CSF helps us a lot because we can’t bear the cost of this medication,” Itani said. “It’s very expensive, even for those who are financially comfortable.”

The CSF supports its patients by covering the financial costs of treatments, screenings and occasionally even transport.

“The funds received go directly to the AUB account and there is accountability. Everything we receive goes to help a needy patient,” Abou Jaber said.




Lebanon’s cancer patients are facing an uphill struggle to access even the most basic medicines and treatments. (AFP)

The money to cover the needs of patients primarily comes from private donors, international NGOs, pharmaceutical companies, sponsors and contributors, and fundraising events.

“The number of patients supported since the establishment of the fund is 600, with more than 2,000 hospital encounters,” Dr. Ali Taher, the CSF’s co-founder, told Arab News.

The fund has been able to support an average of 70 patient admissions daily at the infusion center for chemotherapy, but Taher added: “We have had some medication shortages both in intravenous and oral forms, and this has affected patient cycles and the number of admissions required.”

According to Taher, delays in treatment can mean the difference between curing a patient of their cancer or their condition becoming terminal.

“Pausing the screening tests as well as the related treatments can definitely jeopardize the outcome,” he said. “You can start seeing advanced tumors with poor outcomes instead of early detected tumors with curable outcomes.

“You may also experience disease progression that can become fatal to a certain extent. The severity of the impact of lack of treatment depends on the case and condition and disease evolution of each patient.”

INNUMBERS

11,589 Lebanon’s new cancer cases in 2020.

6,438 Lebanon’s cancer deaths in 2020.

(Source: WHO, GloboCan)

The CSF has supported 220 patients this year alone, but Taher expects the number to increase owing to the severity of the financial crisis.

While the world’s attention has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer has not stopped taking its toll. According to the Global Cancer Observatory, there were 11,589 new cancer cases in Lebanon in 2020.

Pharmacies and hospitals in the country have been running short of even the most basic medications for several months. In August, protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in Beirut to demand global assistance.

Fuel shortages have contributed to the plight of the health sector. In August, the AUB Medical Center released a statement warning that its patients were in imminent danger due to the lack of a dependable energy supply to run its ventilators.


READ MORE 

Lebanon’s health system on life support as economic woes worsen



The steady depletion of foreign-currency reserves has made it difficult for traders to source essential commodities for a country that imports nearly 80 percent of its goods.

“The CSF today is facing two main challenges: Securing the astronomical cost of treatment and securing the impossible-to-find medications on the Lebanese market,” Abou Jaber said.

“We call on the international community to extend a helping hand to us and to our patients and to find viable solutions.”




The CSF supports its patients by covering the financial costs of treatments, screenings and occasionally even transport. (AFP)

In the meantime, cancer patients such as Itani are having to make do with whatever medication they can get their hands on.

Despite the life-saving support provided by the CSF, shortages of Opdivo forced Itani’s doctor to prescribe an alternative drug that was more readily available.

“I am experiencing strong side-effects from those pills,” Itani said of the new medicine. “It’s as if the skin on my hands and face is burnt. I felt much better when I was taking the other medication.”

To prevent her condition from growing any worse, Itani has little choice but to continue taking the medicine and to hope that she can outlast Lebanon’s seemingly incurable ills.


UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

Updated 19 May 2024
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UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

  • Shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus

DUBAI: A UAE aid shipment carrying 252 tons of food arrived in Gaza bound for the north of the enclave, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

The shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus. The delivery involved cooperation from the US, Cyprus, UK, EU and UN.

The supplies were unloaded at UN warehouses in Deir Al-Balah and are awaiting distribution to Palestinians in need.

Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy said that the food supplies will be delivered and distributed in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian organizations, as part of the UAE’s efforts to provide relief and address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE, in accordance with its historical commitment to the Palestinian people and under the guidance of its leadership, continues to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza, she added.

Since the war began in October, the UAE has delivered more than 32,000 tons of urgent humanitarian supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 260 flights, 49 airdrops and 1,243 trucks.

The UAE delivery came as Israel closed the Rafah border crossing. The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.
 


Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev meet at the site of Qiz Qalasi.
Updated 19 May 2024
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Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

  • IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials

DUBAI: A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister made a rough landing on Sunday as it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian news agencies said.
The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The semi-official Fars news agency urged Iranians to pray for Raisi and state TV carried prayers for his safety.
IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials.
Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down hard, and that authorities were awaiting further details.
Raisi, 63, was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.
In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.
But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi's main policies.


Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Updated 19 May 2024
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Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses comments as "washed-up words"
  • Broad splits emerge in Israeli war cabinet as Hamas regroups in northern Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.


US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

Updated 19 May 2024
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US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

  • Washington called on Tehran to rein in proxy forces
  • Officials sat in separate rooms with Omani intermediaries passing messages

LONDON: US and Iranian officials held talks in Oman last week aimed at reducing regional tensions, the New York Times reported.

Through intermediaries from Oman, Washington’s top Middle East official Brett McGurk and the deputy special envoy for Iran, Abram Paley, spoke with Iranian counterparts.

It was the first contact between the two countries in the wake of Iran’s retaliatory missile and drone attack on Israel in April.

The US officials, who communicated with their Iranian counterparts in a separate room — with Omani officials passing on messages — requested that Tehran rein in its proxy forces across the region.

The US has had no diplomatic contact with Iran since 1979, and communicates with the country using intermediaries and back channels.

Since the outbreak of the Gaza war last October, Iran-backed militias — including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and armed groups in Syria and Iraq — have ramped up attacks on Israeli and American targets.

But US officials have determined that neither Hezbollah nor Iran want an escalation and wider war.

After Israel struck Iran’s consulate in Damascus at the beginning of April, Tehran retaliated with hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones.

The attack — which was intercepted by air defense systems from Israel, the US and the UK, among others — was the first ever direct Iranian strike on Israel, which has for years targeted Iranian assets in Syria, whose government is a close ally of Tehran.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a news conference this week that the “Iranian threat” to Israel and US interests “is clear.”

He added: “We are working with Israel and other partners to protect against these threats and to prevent escalation into an all-out regional war through a calibrated combination of diplomacy, deterrence, force posture adjustments and use of force when necessary to protect our people and to defend our interests and our allies.”


Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials

Updated 19 May 2024
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Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials

  • Rescue workers continuing to search for missing people under the rubble
  • Heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Gaza’s civil defense agency said Sunday that an Israeli air strike targeting a house at a refugee camp in the center of the Palestinian territory killed at least 31 people, updating an earlier toll.

“The civil defense crew were able to recover 31 martyrs and 20 wounded from a house belonging to the Hassan family, which was targeted by the Israeli occupation forces in the Nuseirat camp,” Gaza civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told journalists.

He said rescue workers were continuing to search for missing people under the rubble.

Earlier on Sunday the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital had said it had received the bodies of 20 people killed in the strike which witnesses said occurred around 3:00 am local time.

The Israeli army when contacted by AFP asked for specific coordinates of the strike.

Palestinian official news agency Wafa reported that the wounded included several children.

Fierce battles and heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp since the military launched a ground operation on the southern city of Rafah in early May.

Palestinian militants and Israeli troops have also clashed in north Gaza’s Jabalia camp for days now.

Witnesses said several other houses were targeted in air strikes during the night across Gaza, and that strikes and artillery shelling also hit parts of Rafah during the night.

The Israeli military said two more soldiers were killed in Gaza the previous day.

The military said 282 soldiers have been killed so far in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.