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Hospital overwhelmed by cancer epidemic among Ahwazi Arabs

Pollution caused by industry and war is leading to high rates of cancer among Ahwazi Arabs, according to local sources.

Dr Ali Ehsan Pour, the head of Ahwaz City's Shafa Hospital, which specialises in oncology, said many locals were dying due to lack of trained staff and sufficient medical facilities to deal with the high number of cases.

He said that cancer patients in the region have little hope and suffer due to the rudimentary services on offer.

'In the past the hospital did not have a shortage of staff and medical equipment,' he said. 'Due to the rising number of cancer patients, the situation is critical in terms of providing proper treatment.'

He added that Shafa Hospital was the only one in Khuzestan province that provides treatment for cancer. At present there are just 20 beds available in the hospital. The intensive care unit is still under construction.

Every month, 5,000 patients with cancer, haemophilia and thalassemia visit the hospital. Although it is funded by the government, patients have to pay for chemotherapy and radiotherapy and are forced to sell their valuables, including their homes, to pay for treatment. The charges are beyond the means of the impoverished Ahwazi Arab population and inflation has led to a 500 per cent increase in the cost of chemotherapy.

Amir al-Saedi, who specialises in oncology at a London hospital, said: "The area in Ahwaz experienced eight years of war and the Iraqi regime used chemical weapons that contaminated many farmlands. Mustard gas was used during the war. Added to this is industrial effluent with dangerously high levels of lead found in the Karoon River.

"Many Ahwazi Arabs experience short-term and long-term symptoms, such as prostate cancer among men and leukemia among children, infertility, chronic coughing and skin problems. The local environment has also been severely affected by pollution from the war with marsh biodiversity severely affected."