SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 27 May 2024, Monday |

An NGO gives adult cancer patients in Lebanon a vital lifeline

Lebanon’s living conditions have steadily worsened 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 resulted in a scarcity of essential commodities, including fuel, as well as an unprecedented power outage. Unsurprisingly, thousands of skilled Lebanese workers have left the country, particularly medical professionals, and the health sector is on the verge of collapse.

Under the circumstances, Lebanon’s cancer patients face an uphill battle to obtain even the most basic medicines and treatments, frequently having to take whatever medication they can get their hands on.

The Cancer Support Fund is a great place to start. It was established in 2018 at the American University of Beirut Medical Center and has provided a timely and vital lifeline to many Lebanese in need.

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

Despite the fact that there are many cancer-related non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country, Abou Jaber believes that the adult demographic is frequently underserved because the majority of charities are geared toward children.

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

Dina Itani’s extreme adversity is a case in point. The South Lebanon resident chokes back tears as she describes how the country’s overlapping crises have disrupted her cancer treatment.

In addition to fighting the disease, she and her family must deal with chronic medication shortages.

Itani realized something was wrong with her health when her eyesight began to deteriorate suddenly about two years ago. When an ophthalmologist couldn’t find anything wrong with her eyes, he ordered a brain scan, which revealed the presence of a tumor.

She had surgery to remove the tumor, but a biopsy revealed that it was cancerous. Itani was told she would need more treatment to keep the cancer from spreading. Itani told Arab News, “I have melanoma cancer.”

“It’s a type of skin cancer, but in my case, it’s manifesting itself in my internal organs.” In Beirut, I had brain surgery. I’ve been redoing diagnostic imaging every three months for the past year.”

When Itani’s eyesight began to deteriorate suddenly about two years ago, she realized something was wrong with her health. After an ophthalmologist found nothing wrong with her eyes, he ordered a brain scan, which revealed the presence of a tumor.

The tumor was surgically removed, but a biopsy revealed that it was cancerous. Itani was told she would require additional 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 affecting my internal organs.” I had brain surgery in Beirut. For the past year, I’ve had diagnostic imaging redone every three months.”

Despite treatment, Itani’s cancer quickly spread to the bone in her right arm, necessitating another surgery to implant a metal plate. She was also started on immunotherapy with the drug Opdivo. “Every 15 days, they gave me the injection,” she explained.

The medical subsidies provided by Lebanon’s social security system, however, were insufficient to cover the cost of Opdivo.

In the United States, the price of the intravenous solution ranges from $1,189 per 4ml to $7,087 per 24ml infusion, according to Drugs.com, an independent medicine information website. Based on Lebanon’s current minimum wage, the average household would be unable to cover such a cost.

“The CSF helps us a lot because we can’t afford this medication,” Itani explained. “It’s very expensive, even for those who have a lot of money.”

The CSF assists its patients by covering the financial costs of treatments, screenings, and, on occasion, transportation.

“All funds received are deposited directly into the AUB account, and there is accountability.” “Everything we receive is used to help a deserving patient,” Abou Jaber explained.

 

Private donors, international NGOs, pharmaceutical companies, sponsors and contributors, and fundraising events are the primary sources of funding for patient needs.

“Since the fund’s inception, 600 patients have been supported, with over 2,000 hospital encounters,” Dr. Ali Taher, the CSF’s co-founder, told Arab News.

The fund has supported an average of 70 patient admissions per day 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, treatment delays can mean the difference between a patient being cured of cancer or having their condition become terminal.

“Pausing screening tests and related treatments can definitely jeopardize the outcome,” he said. “You may begin to see advanced tumors with poor outcomes rather than early detected tumors with curable outcomes.” You may also experience disease progression, which can be fatal in some cases. The severity of the impact of a lack of treatment varies according to each patient’s case, condition, and disease progression.”

The CSF has helped 220 patients this year alone, but Taher anticipates that number will rise due to the severity of the financial crisis.

While the world’s attention has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer has continued to claim victims. According to the Global Cancer Observatory, 11,589 new cancer cases will be diagnosed in Lebanon in 2020.

For several months, pharmacies and hospitals in the country have been running low on even the most basic medications. Protesters gathered outside the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia headquarters in Beirut in August to demand global assistance.

Fuel shortages have exacerbated the health-care sector’s predicament. The AUB Medical Center issued a statement in August warning that its patients were in imminent danger due to a lack of a reliable energy supply to power its ventilators.

    Source:
  • Arab News