11/02/2024 strategic-culture.su  5 min 🇬🇧 #242613

Primitive Oil Refining in Eastern Syria Causes Significant Increase in Number of People With Cancer

More than a decade of war was enough to destroy a large part of the structure of the Syrian health sector, with the damage further exacerbated after the US and the West imposed sanctions.

By Sara SALLOUM

More than a decade of war was enough to destroy a large part of the structure of the Syrian health sector, with the damage further exacerbated after the US and the West imposed sanctions.

Syrian citizens, particularly those battling malignant tumors, are the primary victims of these measures, as their suffering is double.

The Syrian government used to provide free treatment to cancer patients up until 2011, however, today, public hospitals suffer from a major shortage of medical personnel and medicines and a lack of replacement parts for malfunctioning equipment.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, affiliated with the World Health Organization, said in a report: "Syria ranked fifth among West Asian countries in the number of cancer cases compared to the number of residents, and there are 196 cases of cancer and 105 deaths per 100,000 Syrians."

According to the latest available government statistics, the country recorded a 10% increase in 2021 in the number of infected people registered in 2020, which reached 17,300.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in Syria, whereas lung cancer is the most prevalent among men.

Extreme pressure on the sole oncology hospital in the country

After terrorists destroyed Al-Kindi Hospital in Aleppo, which was the largest and most advanced hospital in the Middle East for treating cancer patients, Al-Biruni Governmental Hospital, in Harasta in the Damascus countryside, became the only specialized place for treating cancer in Syria, which provides diagnostic and therapeutic services free of charge.

Despite the significant efforts to incorporate modern technology and expand and open new departments, a medical source spoke to Al Mayadeen English, highlighting numerous obstacles: "We suffer from an intense pressure as a result of the large number of patients from across the country, especially from the eastern regions, as we receive about 1000 new patients every month."

"We are also witnessing a notable scarcity of medicines and a shortage of medical and nursing staff, as a considerable number of them have migrated due to the deteriorating economic conditions in the country," he added.

In addition to the elevated transportation costs attributed to the hospital's distance from the city center, patients frequently find themselves compelled to procure certain equipment at their own expense, such as intravenous catheters and CT imaging materials. This situation arises because of "the difficulty of obtaining therapeutic and medical supplies as a result of the sanctions and blockade imposed on Syria," according to the source, who further explained, "Cancer patients are directly affected by these sanctions, because the majority of oncology drugs are imported, with many being of exclusive origin. Moreover, the diagnostic and treatment devices are high-tech and require maintenance and imported replacement parts."

These workshops operate under the supervision of the SDF and the American Al-Tanf base

Visitors to Al-Biruni Hospital can easily identify the large numbers of patients from the eastern region, based on their recognizable dialect and distinctive traditional attire.

Abu al-Abd was resting while waiting for a taxi that would take him to the bus station heading to Deir Ezzor, and after a severe bout of coughing, he told Al Mayadeen English: "After our areas were no longer under the control of the Syrian government, and various militias tightened their grip on the region, our security and economic conditions deteriorated, and I lost my job, so the only viable option I had available for making a living was: refining oil using old, primitive methods."

Many stories related by individuals affected in the Eastern Region highlight their shared experiences and their suffering; however, they all attribute the main reasons for cancer to either working with oil burners or being exposed to gases due to the proximity of their residences to these sources.

Abu al-Abd described his work as "dangerous and requires precision and extreme caution."

"Apart from the significant health risks, as evidenced by the current outcomes, we have lost several friends and acquaintances in explosion accidents. Some of them were disfigured as a result of severe burns or disability. We had to bring in crude oil and light a fire under the tanks and then clean them," he added.

The daily wage of workers ranges between 5,000 and 20,000 Syrian pounds, which is equivalent to approximately 1.5$. After Abu Al-Abd lost his only source of livelihood, the employer refused to acknowledge his right to compensation, even though he and many of those who manage workshops of this nature have to directly engage with the SDF and the US occupation base in Al-Tanf.

Experts warn of a potential impending disaster

There are no accurate statistics for the number of cancer patients in areas located outside the government's control in eastern Syria, but many doctors confirmed to Al Mayadeen English that the numbers had increased significantly.

In light of the limited number of specialist doctors and the lack of treatment centers, patients have limited options to either head to the capital, Damascus, for treatment at Al-Biruni Hospital, go to Iraqi Kurdistan, or buy smuggled doses, which are often medically unsafe or useless. The price of each is more than $900.

Many experts warn of a potential impending "disaster" that may afflict the regions of eastern Syria in the near future due to "primitive methods of extracting and burning petroleum derivatives, waste from cars and generators, and huge quantities of gases resulting from oil extraction, such as naphthalene gas, which is carcinogenic and affects the liver and lungs." In addition, "heavy metals that seep into the soil due to oil refining, such as arsenic, mercury, and lead are transferred to plants and vegetables."

Original article:  Al Mayadeen English

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