During the war years, getting to Al-Bairouni hospital was a suicide task. Syria's main public reference center for treating cancer is located in Harasta, one of the towns in the rural belt of the capital where the toughest fighting has been. For seven years, the staff and the sick had to cross a road taken by snipers, flew between shots and bombings to reach a hospital that was repeatedly damaged. «In all this time we have never closed the doors. It has been very hard, nine members of the workforce have died, but we have managed to continue attending patients from all over Syria, ”says Dr. Ihab al-Nukari, director of the center for four years. The fighting has ended in Damascus, but now the hospital faces the harshness of the sanctions that the international community imposes on the Government of Bashar el-Asad and that have a direct impact on the health sector.
The center has 550 beds and in 2018 it served 8,000 people, a figure that is increasingly close to the 12,000 cases that were treated on average until the outbreak of the war, in 2011. “The war changed everything because it was very unsafe to travel and large areas of the country were cut, so many patients may have had to go to neighboring countries such as Turkey or Jordan, "says the director, who says that" here we receive everyone, wherever they come from, opposition areas or loyal Cancer makes no distinctions ». The chest, in women, and lung and prostate, in men, are the most common tumors among patients who should not pay for treatment because everything is covered by public health.
«Thanks to the help of friendly countries we have guaranteed 80% of the medicines, but we have an urgent need to import four equipment of linear medical accelerators, basic in radiotherapy. Because of the sanctions we cannot renew equipment since 2011 and this directly affects the quality of the treatments ”, laments the director, who shows the impacts of projectiles in his office, injuries from a recent past visible in several areas of the building. The only help received so far is a CT (a scanner) sent by the World Health Organization (WHO).
"The most dangerous was the upper area, the rooms on the top floor were the most affected," says a nurse while opening the door of room number 5 on the fourth floor. The beds are a mass of irons, walls and ceilings are stung by shrapnel and the window is a huge opening in the wall, like a violent and irregular bite. «Here was a person admitted, but at the time of the mortar's impact he was in the lightning room. That saved him, but it was only temporary. Cancer took him a few weeks later, ”laments the nurse.
Bullied by aviation
In the chemotherapy room a group of women talk while receiving treatment. United by the disease, they talk about the postwar period, about the economic difficulties, of the loved ones killed, injured or who have traveled to other countries, of the blockade. all under the purr of a fan that makes the high summer temperatures bearable. Aida Mohamed arrives from Raqqa, the former capital of the caliphate established by the jihadist group Islamic State (EI), now in the hands of the Kurdish forces and the United States, "a ten-hour road by bus," said this woman who says that «In Raqqa there is nothing left, it is pure rubble and there is no treatment possible». Cihan Hakimi arrives from Sweida, a southern Druze city, and asks for “the end of sanctions and blockade, because instead of affecting the Government and senior officials, what they do is punish ordinary citizens like me, the sick".
After eight years of conflict, “the Syrian health system is devastated. More than half of the health centers and public hospitals are closed or only partially functioning, and more than 11.3 million people need medical assistance, including three million who suffer serious trauma and disability, ”WHO warns. Al-Bairouni hospital fights against this situation in the middle of the apocalyptic landscape of Harasta, an area devastated by the effect of aviation and artillery. Weapons have stopped in Damascus, but the fight against cancer has never stopped.
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