Feature: Yemen's cancer patients struggle to survive, yell to end blockade

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by Mohamed al-Azaki

SANAA, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Mohammed al-Dhabiby has been struggling to find treatment for his five-year-old daughter Khadijah, who suffers from cancer in her stomach.

He has spent all to bring Khadijah to the hospital in the capital Sanaa for the hope to make her live.

"We traveled from Abs district to Sanaa to treat Khadijah ... I spent all my money. Many medicines are not available in the hospital due to the blockade," he told Xinhua.

Abs is situated in Hajjah province in the far north of the war-torn country, just few miles south of Midi and Harad districts near the border of Saudi Arabia. Midi and Harad have been the main frontlines in the province since the war erupted nearly four years ago.

The government troops backed by a Saudi-led military coalition advanced in August to the northern edge of Abs, forcing hundreds of families to flee to the southern parts of Abs.

Like millions of troubled Yemeni people, al-Dhabiby and his daughter suffer from the war and disease.

The war and the all-out blockade have caused severe shortage in medicines, food and fuel.

The United Nations brokered a cease-fire deal between the Shiite Houthi rebels and the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the peace talks hosted by Sweden last week.

The cease-fire entered into force on Tuesday and covered the strategic Red Sea city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa as a first phase of confidence-rebuilding measures between the rival forces.

Hodeidah port is the key entry of almost 80 percent of Yemen's imports of medicines, food and fuel, as well as aid.

Much of the country's north, including Hodeidah, Hajjah and the capital Sanaa are still controlled by the Houthis since the government of Hadi was ousted in late 2014.

"I hope the United Nations which sponsors the peace talks to press for lifting the blockade and reopening Sanaa airport in order to facilitate the imports of medicines and the travel of patients for treatment abroad," al-Dhabiby said.

Tawakul al-Akhram, another five-year-old girl, lies next to Khadijah in the National Oncology Center in downtown Sanaa. She also travelled from Abs district to receive chemotherapy IV for treating a cancer tumor in her stomach.

Four-year-old Hani Abdulkhalik had his right hand amputated after the chemotherapy dosages failed to treat the cancer. In fact, all the center's 56 beds are full of patients, mostly children and the elderly.

Mohamed al-Yadee, the head of non-governmental Cancer Patients Charity, told Xinhua that the war and blockade have caused acute shortage in medicines and made it very difficult to help transport those in critical conditions abroad for treatment.

"We call on the humanitarian aid agency to provide more medical aid for cancer patients and we call on the United Nations to help reopen Sanaa airport which would facilitate the travel of those in critical conditions," al-Yadee said.

According to Mohammed al-Mahfadi, the information and public relations official of the National Oncology Center, the center is the only one for treating cancer tumors in Yemen.

"It's a state-owned center providing free treatment and medicines for the cancer patients," al-Mahfadi said.

Not all medicines are available in the center, so the patients should buy many medicines from private pharmacies outside, which are very expensive.

Al-Mahfadi said the center receives up to 500 new confirmed cases each month, and the number of cases has increased since the war erupted in March 2015.

The United Nations humanitarian agencies have warned that the Yemeni health centers are facing collapse due to acute shortage of medicine supplies, fuel, as well as salary cut of state medical personnel as the civil war and all-out blockade approach their four-year mark.

Yemen is now on the brink of mass famine, and the cholera epidemic has already infected over 1 million Yemenis, mostly children. Nearly 25 million Yemenis have no access to clean drinking water. Enditem

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