The first radiotherapy machine to treat cancer arrived in northwest Syria over the weekend, the UN’s aid coordination office (OCHA) said on Tuesday.
It marks a “monumental step” for cancer treatment in the region said UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, briefing reporters in New York.
Radiotherapy sessions have historically not been available in local health facilities, forcing Syrian cancer patients to become dependent on cross-border referrals to Türkiye, he added.
The announcement comes on the heels of multiple advocacy efforts led by the UN and its partners, with the support from the Government of Türkiye.
Syria has been in the grip of brutal civil war for more than 12 years, and the northwest is home to the final pockets of opposition and resistance to the Government in Damascus.
Impact of earthquake
Previously, 90 to 100 Syrian cancer patients each week were crossing from Syria into Türkiye for treatment, via the referral system.
This system was severely disrupted following the devastating earthquakes in February, emphasising the need for local radiotherapy capabilities.
The machine – which can provide more than 40 radiotherapy sessions a day – is now set up in the largest hospital in Afrin.
The hospital is adjusting to meet the operational standards and safety requirements of a radiotherapy centre.
Once ready, the facility is expected to meet the needs of up to one-third of all cancer patients in northwest Syria.
Turkish health authorities have pledged their support for the effort, with Turkish technicians and oncologists operating the machine on-site and training Syrian health workers.
Since the devastating earthquakes struck, there has been an uptick in cancer cases reported in the region. Mr. Dujarric urged the international community to do more to support OCHA’s efforts.