Life Expectancy in Chile
Located on the southwest edge of South America, Chile‘s international poverty rate is 1.3 percent. This number is fairly low compared to other nations, but Chilean poverty is on the rise as the nation’s international poverty rate increased from 0.9 percent in 2015. Today, 234,083 Chilean people remain impoverished and currently survive on less than $1.90 a day. Despite this descent in economic prosperity, poverty has not negatively affected the country’s life expectancy as it is has risen from 73.6 in 1990 to 79.1 in 2018. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Chile.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Chile

  1. Female Life Expectancy: While the overall average life expectancy in Chile evens out at 79.1 years, according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), women tend to live longer. Women have an average lifespan of 82.2 years while most men live to the age of 76. Despite this gap in longevity, Chilean citizens generally live long lives as the country ranks 51st among 222 other global nations.
  2. Living Conditions: Overcrowding has long been an issue in Chile. Not only does it reflect the economic fragility of the region but it also harms the physical and mental health of citizens subjected to it. When the Chilean government implemented the Social Housing Recovery of 2014, the health of the country’s citizens increased and their life expectancy increased as a result. Today, the average Chilean home houses 1.2 people per room, which is better than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) average of 1.8. Thanks to the Social Housing Recovery initiative, Chileans not only experience a higher standard of living, but they also received their right to better health and longer lives.
  3. Obesity: Obesity is one of Chile’s leading health issues. According to the CIA, nearly one-third of all Chilean adults suffer from obesity. Chile’s obesity rates ranked number 32 globally with 34.4 percent of adults and 44.5 percent of children suffering from the condition. Because of obesity, a large number of the nation’s citizens have an increased risk of other diseases including cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes, some of the nation’s leading causes of death.
  4. Public Health Interventions: The Bono Auge Programme of 2010 created a universal health care program for Chile’s people. By providing a private health care voucher when public sector care is unavailable, more Chilean citizens are able to receive health care. Following its implementation, the program reduced the patient waiting list by 113,556 in 2010 to 50,780 the following year. The program also prioritizes those with high mortality pathological conditions and sets a two-day time limit on their waiting period for care. Patients who do not see a health care provider in this time frame receive a voucher so that another provider will see them. Equal health care increases the life expectancy of the Chilean people, as faster care and treatment not only saves lives but also extends them.
  5. Cancer: According to the OECD, Chile’s cancer mortality rate is high in comparison with its level of occurrence. Of the 35 percent of cases diagnosed, 23.8 percent end in death. This number makes up 24 percent of Chile’s national mortality rate and shortens the expected life span of its people. While the country has ways to treat the disease, much of this treatment is unequal and not enough. While it has created good screening procedures for cervical and breast cancers, it lacks large quantities of the equipment necessary to perform the job. Consequently, it is unable to reach a large number of people, and many people’s cancers go undetected. Unequal and limited proper testing hold Chile’s life expectancy back, as many of the country’s people die of cancers they are not aware they even have.
  6. Child Mortality: Ranked 163 in comparison with other countries, Chile’s infant mortality rate is fairly low. With an average of 6.4 deaths per 1,000 births and an under-5 mortality rate of 7.4 out of 1,000 during 2017, the country’s numbers prove themselves unalarming. Also, Chile’s infant mortality rate is on the decline, as the country’s under-5 mortality has dropped from 33.10 in 1980 to 7.4 in 2017.
  7. Air Pollution: Chile’s high concentration of air pollutant particles has a negative effect on the nation’s life expectancy. With 16.03 micrograms per cubic meter polluting Chilean air, the country fails to meet the 10 microgram standard that the World Health Organization set. The issue with polluted air is that it increases the risk for other diseases, such as lung cancer, which can eventually lead to death. Also, many expect that polluted air will be the leading cause of environmental premature death by 2050, meaning that without intervention, the country’s air quality will not only shorten the lives of people in the present, but it will also hurt the citizens of Chile’s future.
  8. Access to Health Care: While Chile has made strides towards equalizing its health care, care inequality is still a large issue. Socioeconomic status is the main determinant of the amount and quality of health care Chilean citizens receive. Chile’s indigenous citizens are statistically more impoverished, as they have a 35.6 percent poverty rate in comparison to their non-indigenous counterparts whose poverty rate rests at 22.7 percent. With a lower economic status, indigenous individuals have a higher risk of death, especially within their first year of life. In Mapuche, Chile, the children indigenous to Araucania have a 250 percent higher risk of death in their first year than those non-indigenous to the region. Without proper and equal access to health care, Chile’s impoverished people have a lower life expectancy merely because of economic status.
  9. Tobacco Consumption: According to the Pan American Health Organization, 20.2 percent of Chilean adolescents aged 19 to 25 participate in tobacco use. This number rises to 49.1 percent when assessing those citizens aged 26 to 34. This popularity in tobacco use not only increases the country’s risk of death from lung-related diseases, but it accounts for a large chunk of its lung cancer diagnoses. Chile is doing work to combat the issue, as it has implemented many anti-smoking policies, such as prohibiting smoking in public. As a result of these legislations, the prevalence of the nation’s total tobacco use has decreased from 42.6 percent in 2006 to 34.7 percent in 2014.
  10. Maternal Mortality: As of 2014, parasites and infections are the largest contributors to maternal deaths in Chile, as they make up to 25 percent of the total causes. While the maternal mortality rate has decreased, as deaths per 100,000 live births have dropped from 39.9 in 1990 to 22.2 in 2015. Improving Chilean poverty and prioritizing Chilean health care would improve the maternal death rate even more, as parasitic and infectious diseases are more prevalent among poverty-stricken regions.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Chile show that by working towards ending Chilean poverty, the country’s total life expectancy will rise as a result. With poverty increasing the risk of many factors that contribute to Chilean mortality, such as decreased access to health care, reduced health literacy, higher risk of disease and higher prevalence of destructive behavior, a fight against poverty is a fight for all Chilean life.

– Candace Fernandez
Photo: Flickr

Sub Saharan AfricaWith cancer claiming the lives of about 450,000 Africans per year, drug manufacturers, in a deal with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), have decided to bring life-saving treatments to tens of thousands Africans in need of major healthcare improvements.

The agreement was made between two major pharmaceutical companies: Pfizer, located in the U.S. and Cipla, one of the giants in the Indian pharmaceutical world. Both will cut the prices of 16 cancer treatment drugs, including chemotherapies, for six countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are most affected by the disease.

The six countries receiving major discounts on cancer medicines are Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. A press release by the ACS reveals these are the countries in major need of health improvement, as 44 percent of all cancer cases occurring in sub-Saharan Africa each year happen in these six targeted countries.

According to the Pharmaceutical Journal, there were an estimated 626,000 new cases of cancer in sub-Saharan Africa in 2012, leading to a total of 447,000 deaths by cancer. The World Health Organization predicts this figure could double by 2030 if nothing is done, with killings reaching almost one million sub-Saharan Africans. In comparison to the U.S., with 90 percent of women surviving five years with breast cancer, Uganda and Gambia have survival rates of 46 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

Some of the factors explaining the start of Africa’s cancer crisis are the lack of training for providers, shortages of medications and the insufficiency of diagnostic and therapeutic equipment. Another barrier to quality care for cancer patients in Africa is linked to biology. In fact, there are differences in tumor biology between African cancer patients and patients in developed countries. As an example, African patients often have bigger tumors than patients in other regions, which demands much more care as well as adequate infrastructure to research solutions for curing the disease.

Funding is also a major problem for sub-Saharan Africa, as global funding for cancer prevention and treatment in other low-income countries represents only two percent of global health spending. This is far lower than the health spending for diseases such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.

Having access to high-quality and affordable cancer treatment facilities and medicine in sub-Saharan Africa has become a major goal for ACS and its partner organizations. On top of this agreement, they are preparing long term strategies that will improve the lack of care facing many African patients for years to come.

Sarah Soutoul

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in Trinidad and TobagoThe Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a twin island country bordering the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago is the third richest country by GDP in the Americas. As a developed country, the most common diseases in Trinidad and Tobago are noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), medical conditions not caused by infectious agents.

Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Trinidad and Tobago, accounting for 32 percent of all deaths in 2014.

Uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure) is the main cause of heart attack and stroke and can also lead to blindness, kidney failure and other health problems. The prevalence of hypertension in Trinidad and Tobago is high; approximately 29.8 percent of males and 23.1 percent of females are affected.

In 2013, The Ministry of Health in Trinidad and Tobago started a campaign aiming to reduce the risk factors of heart disease among the population. The “Fight the Fat” campaign focuses on reducing obesity, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets. For the World Health Campaign, the Ministry of Health launched “Know Your Numbers; Get Screened.” Initiatives included raising awareness about hypertension and creating opportunities for adults to check their blood pressure.

According to a report released by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in 2013, Trinidad and Tobago has the highest cancer mortality rate in the Americas. Among men, the majority of cancer deaths are due to prostate cancer and, among women, breast cancer. The high number of deaths from breast and cervical cancer has led to calls for better access to screening and treatment services, given that cervical cancer is very preventable, and breast cancer can be detected and treated early.

Diabetes is another one of the most common diseases in Trinidad and Tobago and is responsible for about 14 percent of all deaths. As of 2016, 10.9 percent of men and 14.1 percent of women in the country are living with diabetes.

Since 1980, there has been a 350 percent increase in the number of people in Trinidad and Tobago living with diabetes. The Ministry of Health attributes this rise to unhealthy lifestyle choices among the population, such as poor diet and physical inactivity. In its fight against diabetes, the Ministry of Health is establishing more accessible screening programs, educating medical professionals about treatment and expanding programs to promote healthy lifestyles.

Like most other developed countries, the most common diseases in Trinidad and Tobago are noncommunicable. Though genetics can play a role in an individual’s development of an NCD, many are at risk because of unhealthy choices. This can be seen by statistics provided by the World Health Organization: 30 percent of the population is obese, with sedentary lifestyles and diets high in sugar, salt and fat to blame.

The Ministry of Health has taken a stance on personal responsibility, in a statement that reads: “The Ministry of Health will do its party with the strengthening of primary health care interventions, but the population of Trinidad and Tobago has a role to play in making better dietary choices and increasing physical exercise.” However, the Ministry of Health also has a role to play in helping Trinidad and Tobago make these changes. It is unlikely that everyone in the country is actively deciding to be unhealthy – there may be issues of accessibility and education at play, too.

Hannah Seitz

Photo: Google

Common Diseases in GreeceGreece is a small nation in the south of Europe, full of history and culture. A large portion of the tradition in Greece resides in the food they make for their family and friends and spending time together. While these activities are common to the Mediterranean country, many of these people’s habits are also what cause their most common illnesses. Here are the top five common diseases in Greece:

1. Cardiovascular Disease

The number one cause of death in Greece in 2014, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) affect millions of people annually, worldwide. CVDs are common killers in low- and middle-income countries, such as Greece. These diseases come in many forms. Some examples include eart disease, heart failure, arrhythmia and heart valve problems. The causes of CVDs vary, but they often connect to lifestyle choices such as an unhealthy diet, lack of physical exercise, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol.

2. Cancer

While cancer comes in many forms and affects Grecians differently, the most prevalent among them is lung cancer. Lung cancer has become the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men and women around the world, often being found once it is in a very developed stage. In recent years, doctors have begun to develop early screenings for people who they believe are at a high risk of developing the cancer. Lung cancer is one of the more preventable cancers, often caused by large amounts of exposure to smoke.

3. Alzheimer’s and other Dementias

In 2013, 1.77 percent of the Greek population suffered from dementia. Additionally, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a disease that affects memory loss and other cognitive abilities, which make everyday living difficult. Dementia is not a normal part of aging, but it can reveal itself as people start to reach 65 years of age or older. While there is currently no cure for the disease, there are medicines and treatments that help with symptoms.

4. Chronic Respiratory Diseases

Another one of the common diseases in Greece, chronic respiratory diseases affect thousands of people every year. The disease can come in many forms, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and occupational lung diseases. These diseases are often due to behavioral or environmental forces such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, occupational chemicals and dust.

5. Diabetes

Approximately 7.5 percent of Greece’s population suffers from diabetes. The disease can come in two forms, type one and type two. Type 1 diabetes is normally diagnosed in childhood, whereas type 2 is diagnosed later on in adulthood. Type two diabetes is the most common form of diabetes found in those afflicted and is often the result of behavioral choices, such as eating habits.

These common diseases in Greece are just some of the many illnesses that the population deals with. While many of these afflictions often lead to fatality, they are often preventable by living a healthy and active lifestyle.

Olivia Hayes

Photo: Flickr

Top 3 Diseases in Israel
While Israel has been able to lower the number of deaths caused by diseases, many conditions in Israel are still prevalent. The death rates from certain diseases in Israel have declined by 80 percent since the 1970s, but there is always room for improvement. Here are the top three diseases in Israel.

Top Three Diseases in Israel

  1. Cancer: Cancer, the major killer in Israel, caused almost one-quarter of total deaths in Israel in 2011. Even though the cancer rate is relatively low compared to other countries, cancer is still a primary cause of death. The most common cancer among Israeli men is lung cancer, which is primarily caused by tobacco smoking. The most common cancer among Israeli women is breast cancer. About 4,500 Israeli women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and 900 dying from it. However, according to the Israel Cancer Association, the number of women surviving breast cancer is steadily on the rise thanks to research and technology able to detect early signs. It has also been reported that the lung cancer rate among men is lower than most countries.
  2. Coronary Heart Disease: Coronary Heart Disease is the second most prevalent cause of death in Israel. Together, cancers and heart disease account for 40 percent of deaths. However, like cancer, heart disease in Israel is being contained. The death rate from heart disease in Israel has dropped by 50 percent since 1998, partly due to declines in smoking and national campaigns against obesity, diabetes and hypertension. The people of Israel have been willing to change their lifestyles to prevent heart disease. There are also reliable ambulance services in Israel to respond to any emergency.
  3. Diabetes: Diabetes is the next leading cause of death after cancer and heart disease. Compared to other countries, deaths from diabetes are high in Israel. But the country has tried a number of ways to defeat diabetes including using an artificial pancreas, medical smartphones and glucose-sensing enzymes. Researchers have also been looking for a cure with the help of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Israel Science Foundation. Scientists are also working on an antibody to block killer cells that destroy helpful cells in the pancreas.- Emma MajewskiPhoto: Flickr

Cancer affects the lives of children all over the world, but it is estimated that up to 90% of children with cancer live in developing countries. In low-income countries where access to healthcare is limited, childhood cancer survival rates are as low as 10 to 20%. Although HIV/AIDS infections amongst children remain a critical health priority in sub-Saharan Africa, cancer is emerging as one of the major causes of childhood death on the African continent. Treatment of childhood cancer in Africa is of growing concern.

The most common forms of childhood cancer in Africa are leukemia, lymphomas and tumors of the central nervous system. In African countries with high instances of childhood HIV/AIDS, AIDS-related cancers like Kaposi’s sarcoma (a cancer of the blood vessels) are common. In countries with high rates of malaria infections, Burkitt’s lymphoma is the most common childhood cancer.

Lack of Treatment Options

Cancer in Africa is problematic to treat because it remains a largely unknown disease within communities and most patients reach out to doctors when it is too late. Advocacy and creating public awareness are thus key points to tackling childhood cancers.

Furthermore, specialist treatment facilities on the African continent are particularly lacking. Currently, there are more than 450 million children living in African countries, but there are only four specialist children’s hospitals, the majority of which are in South Africa. Most children with cancer never reach a specialist treatment center.

Due to the lack of equipped healthcare facilities, the diagnosis of cancer often takes place too late or healthcare facilities lack the equipment and training to even treat it. In 2016, more than 20 African countries did not have any facilities with a working radiotherapy machine — the most common form of cancer treatment. A survey by the Atomic Energy Agency found that there are only a few hundred radiotherapy machines on the continent of more than a billion people. The majority of these machines are in just a few countries: South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria and Algeria. In most African countries, cancer is a death sentence.

New Funding Provides Hope

The Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, with additional funding from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, recently unveiled an initiative to address these issues called Global HOPE (Hematology-Oncology Pediatric Excellence). The plan includes the creation of a network of pediatric cancer care facilities in southern and east Africa in partnership with local governments. The first center will be built in Botswana. They will also train health care providers in Botswana, Malawi, Uganda and other African countries to detect and treat childhood cancers. They expect that this will create a blueprint for childhood cancer care that other countries can follow.

Childhood cancer in Africa, like most noncommunicable diseases on the continent, is of growing concern. These diseases are however increasingly garnering the attention needed to address them in the coming years.

Helena Kamper

Photo: Flickr

Cancer. The dreaded disease kills millions around the world. It sometimes seems like everyone knows someone that it has cursed with its cruel touch. But even in the developing world, it is having a huge impact on thousands of people.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 7.9 million people around the world die from cancer each year. While many think of this as more of a developed world problem, 5.5 million of those cancer-related deaths take place in the developing world. That is 70 percent of cancer deaths across the globe. Once a disease associated with the affluent, it is now an affliction of the poor.

Worse, cancer deaths are to increase to 6.7 million by the end of this year and further to 8.9 million by 2030 in the developing world. During the same time frame, cancer deaths are expected to remain at current levels in the developed world.

A few factors will contribute to this expected rise within the next 15 years of cancer-related deaths. First is the globally aging population. To go along with this is a increase in rapid, unplanned urbanization as well as the globalization of unhealthy lifestyles.

Most health infrastructures in developing countries are designed to respond to infectious diseases. Cancer requires more resources financially, as well as treatment technology, equipment, staff or training than most countries have access to.

There is not only an issue here of deaths but also needless suffering. Sadly, there is very large lack of response capacity in the developing world. There is a lack of preventatives, treatment, public education and diagnosis. Early diagnosis in particular is a problem, and once diagnosed it is usually the rich that have access to treatment, whether surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy out of country. This is especially the case in Africa.

After all that, it might appear that everyone is doomed. However, recent good news about new technology to diagnose cancer early in the developing world has things looking up.

Early diagnosis is key in cancer. If the disease is not recognized early through cancer testing, then treatment is usually not effective. Seventy percent of those that even get diagnosed in the developing world do at this late stage when treatment is essentially useless.

Important to detecting cancer are biomarkers – cells or molecules along with “any other measurable biological characteristic that can be used as an objective way to detect disease.” Glycoproteins are especially useful biomarkers. They are found throughout the body, in blood, mucus and sperm.

New technology is using glycoproteins to detect cancer early. The lock and key method takes a disease biomarker, like a glycoprotein of prostate cancer, and makes a cast of it. “The prostate cancer glycoprotein is tethered to a surface and detection molecules are assembled around it. When the glycoprotein is removed, it leaves behind a perfect chemical ‘cast’.”

Essentially, the lock and key technique means that only another cancer glycoprotein will fit the mold – others might be the same size, but they will not have the specific molecules needed to bind to the lock created by the original one.

As this method of diagnosis does not rely on antibodies, it does not require special storage. The lock and key cancer testing method is a simple and effective way to detect cancer early, and can even be molded to specific cancers and other diseases. The advantages are obvious, but time will tell if the method of testing becomes wide-spread in the developing world.

Gregory Baker

Sources: The Conversation, WHO
Photo: The Conversation


Dr. Samuel Achilefu, a Nigerian born scientist, has developed glasses that can see cancer cells. For this new technology, Dr. Achilefu was awarded the 2014 St. Louis Award.

This award is given to a recipient who has made outstanding contributions to the profession of chemistry and has demonstrated potential to further the profession.

Dr. Achilefu, a professor of radiology and biomedical engineering, and his team developed glasses that contain imaging technology. The glasses are intended to help surgeons view cancer cells while operating, instead of operating “in the dark.”

The project began in 2012 when Dr. Achilefu and his team received a $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Before the grant, the team received limited funding from the Department of Defense’s Breast Cancer Research Program.

The glasses were in the development stage for years, testing the technology on mice, rats and rabbits to confirm the effectiveness of the glasses.

In order to see the infected cells, two steps must be followed.

First, the surgeons must inject a small quantity of an infrared fluorescent marker into the patient’s bloodstream. The marker, also known as a tracer, contains peptides that are able to locate the cancer cells, and buries itself inside.

The tracer lasts about four hours. As it moves through the patient’s body, it will clear away from non-cancerous tissue.

By wearing the glasses, the surgeon can inspect the tumors under an infrared light that reacts with the dye. The combination of the tracer and infrared light causes the tumor to glow from within and allows the surgeon to see the infected cells.

This technology was first tested on humans at the Washington University School of Medicine in June 2015. Four patients with breast cancer and over two-dozen patients with melanoma or liver cancer have been operated on using the goggles.

Ryan Fields, a surgical oncologist who is collaborating with Dr. Achilefu says, “[the glasses] allow us to see the cells in real time, which is critical. Because the marker has not been FDA approved, doctors are currently using a different, somewhat inferior marker that also reacts with infrared light.”

Julie Margenthaler, a breast cancer surgeon, explains that many breast cancer patients must go back for second operations because the human eye cannot see the extent of the infected cells alone.

“Imagine what it would mean if these glasses eliminated the need for follow-up surgery and the associated pain, inconvenience, and anxiety”.

The Food and Drug Administration are still reviewing the cancer seeing glasses and the tracer developed by Dr. Achilefu and his co-researchers. But, if the glasses are approved, the removal of cancerous cells has been changed forever. And most importantly, patients will receive the care in order to treat their cancer.

Kerri Szulak

Sources: IT News Africa, Premium Times, St. Louis Section of American Chemical Society
Photo: Pax Nigerian


A new report, published in part by the American Cancer Society, has revealed that certain types of cancers are strongly associated with living in poverty while others are associated with being wealthy.

The study included information from over 3 million cancer diagnoses, using poverty rates as the indicator of socioeconomic status (SES) in an effort to identify any links between the two factors. Each diagnosis was organized by type of cancer and by the poverty level of the area the patient lived in. Out of 46 cancer sites tested, 38 of them showed a significant relationship with poverty, whether that meant being more likely or less likely to have that type of cancer as a result of low SES. The cancers most strongly associated with high levels of poverty were found to be those of the larynx, cervix and Kaposi sarcoma, which affects connective tissues.

Conversely, wealthier patients are most significantly associated with melanoma and thyroid cancers. Why might certain cancers disproportionately affect the poor?

There are obvious ways in which poverty could impact health — the impoverished are more likely to lack access to health care and are less likely to have stable food security. However, there also appear to be impacts that are less noticeable and require more examination, as this study has revealed. The answer may lie in “behavioral risk factors” that occur more often in communities with high levels of poverty, such as “tobacco, alcohol and intravenous drug use, sexual transmission and poor diet.”

For the types of cancers that affect wealthier communities more often, the study finds these cancers are the ones most likely to be over-diagnosed. It seems that lacking access to adequate health care and certain behavioral factors together predispose those in poverty to have different kinds of cancers. What is most unfortunate is that the cancers associated with low levels of poverty, the study found, tend to be the most lethal.

A relationship does exist between SES and cancer, and this study is one of the first to use poverty levels to find this link. In one of the first studies ever done on the subject, published in the same journal as this newest report and using a different measure of SES, researchers said, “It is increasingly apparent that a substantial proportion of the disparities in cancer defined by race and ethnicity can be attributed to socioeconomic status.”

Unfortunately, this relationship is often hard to define and there are not extensive amounts of literature on the topic. However, interest in finding the links between cancer and poverty is growing, and the results of this report reaffirm the importance of taking SES into account. Hopefully more researchers will make similar efforts to examine the details of the relationship between poverty and health, including the unfortunate link between poverty and lethal types of cancer.

-Emily Jablonski 

Sources: Medscape, Wiley
Sources: OnlyMyHealth

syrian refugees
The United Nation refugee agency’s top medical expert has recently published a warning of the dangers of overwhelmed health care systems in Jordan and Syria, which are flooded with Syrian refugees.

This client base of Syrian refugees does not arrive with marks of external violence or chemical warfare, but instead arrive fighting against a more internalized battlefield — cancer.

Paul Spiegel, the top medical expert of UNHCR, was quoted in the latest edition of The Lancet Oncology, the leading British medical journal, explaining how the overwhelming of the health care systems forces “UNHCR offices and partners to make agonizing decisions over who does and doesn’t receive care.” Siegel has documented hundreds of refugees in Jordan and Syria denied cancer treatment on account of limited funds.

So far there are more than one million documented Syrian refugees in Lebanon and 600,000 in Jordan. In the case of Lebanon, that number is expected to continue to increase, reaching 1.5 million by the end of 2014 (already equivalent to a third of Lebanon’s pre-Syria war population).

“We have to turn away cancer patients with poor prognoses because caring for them is too expensive. After losing everything at home, cancer patients face even greater suffering abroad – often at a huge emotional and financial cost to their families,” Siegel remarked.

For most cases, denial is based on poor prognosis, as a patient’s unlikely chance of recovery prompts committees to invest the limited money on more promising cases. In Jordan alone, between 2010 and 2012, the UNHCR’s Exceptional Care Committee was only able to approve 246 out of 511, or 48 percent, of the refugee applications for cancer treatment.

Amnesty International, in a newly released report, found that the inaccessibility of health care in Lebanon has prompted some refugees to return to Syria in order to receive the treatment they need.

“Hospital treatment and more specialized care for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is woefully insufficient, with the situation exacerbated by a massive shortage of international funding,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Thematic Issues.

While Amnesty acknowledges the strain on resources, including health care, caused by the wave of refugees entering Lebanon, the organization is calling on the government of Lebanon to adopt long-term strategies in order to properly address health care needs. Similarly, the organization called on the international community to step up and provide assistance to the Syrian refugees.

UNHCR outlined possible new approaches in a press release, stating solutions could include “mobile and online information campaigns focusing on preventive health and new financing models such as crowd-funding and potentially health insurance.”

No matter what solution is adopted by the asylum countries, the UNHCR’s biggest concern is avoiding inequality between host communities and refugees.

In the meantime, readers should not only support international organizations combatting this internalized war-zone amongst patients, but also support the 21st Century Global Health Technology Act. By calling one’s local legislators about this important bipartisan bill, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) could have the authority to strengthen the development of health products that are affordable, culturally appropriate and easy to use in low-resource health systems.

— Blythe Riggan

Sources: Amnesty, Borgen, UNHCR 1, UNHCR 2
Photo: The Independent