Conflict in Yemen reverses years of progress and gains in cancer care

After six years of war, Yemen has lost so much of the gains the country had made in health services, particularly cancer care. Many cancer clinics had to close and the country face shortages of personnel as well as essential medicines.
28 June 2021

UICC continues its series on delivering cancer care in zones of unrest by looking at how the National Cancer Control Foundation in Yemen is trying to limit the impact of six years of war on cancer services and resources.

Organisations working in cancer care in Yemen face similar challenges as those exposed in UICC’s article on cancer care in Lebanon, in terms of fractured infrastructure and health services, lack of resources and personnel as well as difficulties in accessing and providing sometimes even the most basic care.

After six years of conflict, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, calls Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than four million displaced people and an acute risk of a large-scale famine in the country. 

“Many skilled health workers have left the country and people with cancer are losing their lives and dying in pain because treatment and care are not available.” 
–    Dr Labeeb Alaghbari, Consultant and former General Manager of the National Cancer Control Foundation, Yemen 

Before war broke out in Yemen in late 2014, the country boasted robust cancer care services and was making in-roads into fighting breast and cervical cancers. The National Cancer Control Foundation in Yemen had been providing charitable services for people with cancer since 2003 and the organisation was opening new branches and centres throughout the country every year; in 2014, it established the first surgical centre specifically for oncology. 

This network of care was completely disrupted in 2015 and by 2016 the country already faced shortages of qualified healthcare workers as well as essential medicines and materials. After six years of war, Yemen has lost so much of the gains the country had made in health services, particularly cancer care. Many cancer clinics had to close, forcing people to travel great distances for treatment. 

Today, despite the enormous challenges, the National Cancer Control Foundation – a UICC member organisation that is part of the Cancer Advocates programme continues its efforts to provide free screening for cancer patients and for early detection, chemotherapy as well as food and transportation for patients who travel to Sana’a.

 “There is no space for radiotherapy and much of the medication we had before the war is no longer available, such as radioactive iodine, because of cross-border issues. Some medicines are available on the black market, but they come at a huge cost and are often inferior copies of unknown source.”
–    Dr Labeeb Alaghbari, Consultant and former General Manager of the National Cancer Control Foundation, Yemen 

The global health community has also mobilised, with WHO and other partners providing chemotherapy and other anti-cancer medications, as well as opioids to manage the pain of patients in late stages of the disease. The Foundation itself also looks to other countries, such as Kuwait, for funds, medication, equipment and other donations that can allow the Foundation to continue its work.

There are many layers of complication, however, as patients face transportation difficulties and therefore have difficulty pursuing treatment. There is also a “resource drain” with people leaving the country, and associated challenges in pursuing knowledge exchange, holding conferences, or engaging in awareness-raising and prevention in schools. In the health sector, workers face interruptions in salary payments. The current crisis and immediate implications are therefore compounded by issues with additional long-term consequences for cancer incidence and mortality.

Read the first article in the series on "Cancer in zones of unrest": "The challenge of survival in Lebanon"
Last update: 
Monday 2 August 2021
Share