In Sudan, cancer patients suffer from US sanctions

Ⓒ AFP – ASHRAF SHAZLY – | Patients in a cancer treatment center in Khartoum on July 25, 2017

Lying on his hospital bed after a chemotherapy session, Mohammed Hassan remembers the day he learned he had a blood cancer. His cure remains suspended for the final lifting of US sanctions against his country, Sudan.

“It was during my honeymoon, I fell ill and I was admitted to the hospital,” recalls the 30-year-old banker as a nurse prepares her toilet. “I never imagined it could be cancer.”

After one year of treatment in the country’s largest public hospital dedicated to cancer in Khartoum, its treatment like that of hundreds of other patients is slowed because of the US sanctions that have weighed on Sudan for 20 years.

Vital medicines and medical equipment are theoretically exempt from the embargo, but restrictions on banking and technology trading, as well as heavy trade regulations, hinder hospital care.

Ⓒ AFP – ASHRAF SHAZLY – | A patient during a radiotherapy session in Khartoum on July 25, 2017

Two of the four radiotherapy units in the hospital where Mohammed Hassan is cared for have been down for months and their repair has become a nightmare, says Khatir Al-Alla, the school’s general manager.

“Spare parts have to be brought back from the United States or Europe,” says the official. “We face a lot of difficulties because of diplomatic problems,” he said.

– To be treated abroad? –

The United States imposed sanctions on Sudan in 1997 for its alleged support of Islamist groups. The founder of Al-Qaeda Osama bin Laden lived in Khartoum between 1992 and 1996.

Over the years, successive US administrations have reinforced these restrictions, accusing Khartoum of human rights violations, particularly in the deadly conflict against rebels in western Darfur, which has made 330,000 since 2003, according to the UN.

Relations between Washington and Khartoum have warmed up in recent months, according to Sudanese officials. The latter hoped that this rapprochement would result in a definitive lifting of sanctions on 12 October, the date of the end of the probationary period imposed by the United States.

Doctors and patients are also suspended from Washington’s decision.

Mr. Alla receives about 1,000 new patients per month in his hospital and 500 daily visits for follow-ups.

“The waiting time (for an appointment) varies between three and four weeks, which is way too long for cancer patients,” deplores Alla.

“It is the patients who suffer the most from the economic and diplomatic sanctions,” he says.

Earlier, Mohammed Hassan even plans to continue his treatment in India.

– Devices out of service –

The Khartoum Breast Care Center, the only medical establishment specializing in breast cancer in Sudan, is no better off.

The mammography machine has been out of service for weeks, reports Hania Fadl, the founder of this non-profit center in Khartoum.

Penalized by restrictions on technology exchanges, Sudanese technical personnel are unable to maintain the equipment, deplores this radiologist trained in Britain.

The technicians must come from neighboring Egypt or Kenya to repair the mammography device, crucial for the detection of breast cancer.

Each patient presents a challenge for Dr. Fadl, who is only able to detect a large tumor by touch.

Without a mammography device, “one breast may be operated and after two or three months the patient may have another tumor in the other breast that has not been detected” , she says.

If the sanctions are lifted definitively, repairing these machines will take less time, assures Hania Fadl.

But in light of the current situation, one of her patients, Ghada Ali, remains very concerned.

“We are coming for exams and we find the machine broken,” said the 47-year-old woman who had to undergo breast cancer surgery.

“I am worried because the cancer has spread to my other breast”.

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