Lebanon cancer patients face ‘humiliating’ drug shortages

Kfar Nabrakh: As if her cancer treatment was not already agonising enough, Rita is now wracked with worry about the medication she needs as Lebanon's crippling economic crisis sparks drug shortages.

"The treatment is like fire shooting through your body," the 53-year-old patient told AFP, asking that her real name not be given. "But now on top of that, we have to go hunting for the drugs."

Lebanon is in the throes of one of the world's worst economic crises since the mid-19th century, which has sparked a flurry of shortages from medicines to fuel as foreign currency reserves run low.

The health ministry has previously provided cancer medication at very low cost to patients without health insurance, but the patients say there are now almost no drugs to be found. The shortages are threatening the treatment of tens of thousands of people, many of whom have taken to social media in a desperate plea to source the drugs they require.

Since Rita was diagnosed with uterine cancer three years ago, the disease has also spread to her lungs.

"My brother couldn't find the drugs from the ministry," said the single mother of three, her face etched with worry at his home in Kfar Nabakh in the Chouf mountains.

For now, she has borrowed money to buy the medicine at a much higher price on the black market. But she says she will not be able to afford to do this for long.

"What am I supposed to do? Sit around waiting for my turn?" she asked. "If you can't find the drugs, you die."

'No drugs left'

The World Health Organization says 28,764 people have been diagnosed with cancer in Lebanon over the past five years, out of a total population of six million.

But doctors say the number of patients undergoing treatment is likely to be much higher.

The head of the Lebanese Society of Haematology and Blood Transfusion, Ahmad Ibrahim, said that around 2,500 new cases of leukaemia and lymphoma are recorded each year in the Mediterranean country.

"Very little medication is left for their treatment," he said. "Yet if they don't follow regular treatment, some will die."

Cancer drugs are just the latest medication to become scarce, with even painkillers disappearing from pharmacy shelves in recent months. – AFP