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.


Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

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Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack
More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank

ARIEL, Palestinian Territories: With many Israelis gripped by a sense of insecurity following Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, the number of women applying for gun permits has soared, while feminist groups have criticized the rush to arms.
According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack, with 18,000 approved, more than tripling the number of pre-war licenses held by women.
The surge has been enabled by the loosening of gun laws under Israel’s right-wing government and its far-right security minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with 10,000 enrolled in mandatory training, according to the ministry.
“I would have never thought of buying a weapon or getting a permit, but since October 7, things changed a little bit,” political science professor Limor Gonen told AFP during a weapons handling class at a shooting range in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
The October 7 attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
“We were all targeted (on October 7) and I don’t want to be taken by surprise, so I’m trying to defend myself,” Gonen said after the class, an obligatory step for acquiring a permit.
While the immediate trigger for the surge in gun buying was the Hamas attack, Ben Gvir was already pledging to reform firearms legislation when he became security minister in late 2022.
He promised to raise the number of civilians holding weapons and “increase self-defense capacity.”
Under Ben Gvir, the process for getting a gun license has been sped up, with Israeli media reporting that in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack the authorities were often clearing hundreds of permits per day.
Eligibility criteria for gun ownership in Israel now include being a citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18, having a basic command of Hebrew and medical clearance.
The full list of requirements makes it nearly impossible for non-Jews to obtain a permit.
In March, Ben Gvir, who is himself a settler in the West Bank, hailed civilian weapon ownership passing the 100,000 mark, while showing off his own gun at a rally.
But his rush to put deadly arms into the hands of ordinary Israelis has drawn criticism too.
The Gun Free Kitchen Tables Coalition, an Israeli initiative founded by feminist activists, condemned the civilian arms race.
It is “a strategy of far-right settlers to consider the arming of women to be a feminist act,” a spokesperson for the group of 18 organizations told AFP.
“The increase of weapons in the civilian space leads to an increase in violence and murder against women. It’s time for the state to understand that individual safety is its responsibility.”
Community manager Yahel Reznik, 24, said she now felt “a lot more safe” in Ariel, which sits three kilometers north of the Palestinian city of Salfit.
“Thanks to my training I will be able to defend myself and protect others” from an attack, she told AFP.
Violence in the West Bank, which was already rising before the war, has surged since October 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli settlers and troops across the West Bank since the start of the Gaza war, according to the Palestinian Authority.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The surge in gun ownership is not limited to West Bank settlers. In the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, just north of Tel Aviv, Corine Nissim said she never leaves home without her gun.
The 42-year-old English teacher walked her three children to the park with a 9mm Smith & Wesson sticking out the back of her trousers.
“After October 7, I think like most people in Israel, I realized that the only person I can trust is myself,” she told AFP, adding she bought a gun not to feel “helpless.”
“The worst scenario that was going through my head was that, of course, terrorists attack me and my family in our own house,” the mother said.
Her decision to own a gun initially surprised some in the seaside town known for its tranquillity and safety, she said.
“People watched me and said, ‘This is so surreal to see you like this with a gun and with the baby’” said Nissim.
But, she said, others started to agree with her and said they would follow suit.
“Many women told me: ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to get a gun as well.’“

Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

Updated 9 min 59 sec ago
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Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

JERUSALEM: Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat.
More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine with outside aid severely restricted.
Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from aid agencies that they are unable to deliver aid including vegetables.
Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.
“The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, also known as OCHA, said in a briefing late Friday.
“Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations.”
But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the United Nations over why the aid is stacking up.
It shared aerial footage of white and black containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.
The October Hamas attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,551 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
With civil order breaking down in the territory, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.
A deputy UN spokesman this week said the crossing “is operating with limited functionality, including because of fighting in the area.”
Israel’s coordinator for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, said Thursday “the content of 1,200 aid trucks awaits collection by UN aid agencies,” saying a lack of distribution was responsible.
Earlier in the week, COGAT spokesman Shimon Freedman told reporters at the crossing the daily pause on a southern road into Gaza was designed to allow the UN “to collect and distribute more aid” alongside an Israeli military presence.
He said most of the aid had not moved because “organizations have not taken sufficient steps to improve their distribution capacity.”
Aid agencies have instead pointed to Israel’s offensive on the southern city of Rafah, which pushed out more than a million people and closed a border crossing with Egypt, as a deepening humanitarian crisis hampered relief efforts.
The United States also sanctioned an extremist Israeli group last week, accusing it of blocking convoys and looting and burning trucks trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
And the UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by “desperate people.”
As both sides stall, it is the civilians in Gaza who are paying the price.
“We don’t see any aid. Everything we get to eat comes from our own money and it’s all very expensive,” said Umm Mohammad Zamlat, 66, from northern Gaza but now living in Khan Yunis in the south.
“Even agencies specialized in aid deliveries are not able to provide anything to us,” she added.
“We hope this war ends and we return to our homes and that we don’t need aid from anyone.”
NGO Doctors Without Borders said on Friday that six trucks with 37 tons of supplies, mostly essentially medical items, have been held up at the Egyptian part of Kerem Shalom since June 14.
“This is incomprehensible and unacceptable,” it said in a statement.
“It’s like asking a fireman to watch a house filled with people burn down, and preventing him putting out the fire.”


Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551

Updated 30 min 41 sec ago
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Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551

  • The toll includes at least 120 deaths over the past 48 hours

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Saturday that at least 37,551 people have been killed in the territory during more than eight months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The toll includes at least 120 deaths over the past 48 hours, a ministry statement said, adding 85,911 had been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.


Iraqi pro-Iran fighter killed in strike on eastern Syria

Updated 52 min 14 sec ago
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Iraqi pro-Iran fighter killed in strike on eastern Syria

  • “An Iraqi member in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq was killed, and two others were injured in a preliminary toll, as a result of an unknown airstrike,” the Observatory said
  • The Britain-based monitor said an explosion was heard coinciding with the strike “in Albukamal countryside...”

BEIRUT: An Iraqi fighter from an Iran-backed group was killed in an overnight airstrike in eastern Syria near the Iraq border overnight, the group and a war monitor said on Saturday.
The strike occurred in Deir Ezzor province, where Iran wields significant influence and which is regularly targeted by Israel and the United States, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“An Iraqi member in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq was killed, and two others were injured in a preliminary toll, as a result of an unknown airstrike,” the Observatory said, referring to a loose alliance of Iran-backed groups.
The Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said an explosion was heard coinciding with the strike “in Albukamal countryside... a few kilometers away from Syrian-Iraqi borders.”
Iraq’s Sayyed Al-Shuhada Brigades announced the death of a fighter in a strike on “Friday which targeted his vehicle during a reconnaissance patrol on the Iraqi-Syrian border,” accusing the United States of being behind the attack.
Responsibility for the strike was not immediately claimed, but a spokesperson for the US-led military coalition formed in 2014 to fight the Daesh group told AFP that “neither the coalition nor US forces carried out overnight strikes in Deir Ezzor.”
The Observatory said that several hours before the strike, drones flew over the area.
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes primarily targeting pro-Iran groups — which it rarely comments on publically.
In late March, 16 Tehran-affiliated fighters, including an Iranian military adviser, were killed in strikes on eastern Syria.
The strikes also killed one civilian working for the World Health Organization.
Iran has long been a key ally of the Syrian government, most notably providing military advisers.


Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

Updated 22 June 2024
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Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

  • Popular rapper Toomaj Salehi was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme court has overturned a death sentence against popular rapper Toomaj Salehi who was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, his lawyer said Saturday.
“Salehi’s death sentence was overturned,” the rapper’s lawyer Amir Raisian said in a post on X, adding that the supreme court had ordered a retrial.