Where ISIS Leaves Off, Cancer Takes Over

Refugees suffer double blow from terrorism and disease

Iraqi Christians were once a thriving middle-class community of 1.6 million. Terrorists have decimated their communities and they now number less than 200,000. Refugees fleeing the Islamic State, are now faced with a new enemy – a deadly cancer epidemic that pervaded refugee camps.

Paul Spiegel, chief medical expert for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, wrote in a 2014 report that “cancer diagnosis and care in humanitarian emergencies typifies a growing trend towards more costly chronic disease care.”

Farrah Mateen, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said at the time that the cancer epidemic becomes aggravated in war-torn areas.

“In many countries where armed conflict occurs,” she said, “there is a lack of baseline data. What is likely is that the burden of cancer is growing in displacement and refugee situations.”

I witnessed the devastation first-hand when I traveled to Northern Iraq in February 2016.

I walked into the Al-Amal refugee camp in and shaken to my core by the sight of frightened mothers holding cancer-stricken children. Forced to flee their homeland and live in deplorable conditions, their dignity was also being stripped away as proud men stood in long lines to beg for money to purchase medicine for their wives.

“Please, I beg you, please,” one man pleaded in the Assyrian language. “I need $300 for medication for my wife. I have lost everything to ISIS. Overnight, I lost everything. I need $300 to buy medicine for my wife.”

Refugees fleeing the Islamic State are ravaged by diseases, including cancer. And the cancer diagnoses continue to rise. While it may be difficult to quantify the disease burden, the impact is clear.  

Those who contract cancer rarely have access to any treatment because of its astronomical costs. Medication costs a refugee an average of $50 per week; testing and recovery support averages $200 a month. Chemotherapy costs $1,000 per month.

These treatments are inaccessible to the thousands of displaced Assyrians living on pennies a day.

The Iraqi Christians at Al-Amal and other refugee camps need our help. The plight of these refugees must not be forgotten amid the horrific news cycles of war and terror and military campaigns and public executions.

The Iraqi Christian Relief Council has launched the Cancer Free Refugee campaign to provide funding for cancer treatments for refugees who need it most. We have to date established partnerships with the King Hussein Cancer Center in Amman and the American University Hospital in Beirut. In March, for example, we partnered with the American University in Beirut to provide funding for Miriam, a 22-year-old woman in urgent need of an operation to remove a tumor from her cavity chest. She is now receiving life-saving treatments otherwise inaccessible to her and other refugees.

I invite you to join with me in helping save the suffering refugees. Go to www.victimsofisis.org to learn more and find out how you can help.

Do not let the Islamic State win this war.

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