At least 10 children and teens being treated for leukaemia have died after being administered expired doses of cancer treatment in Yemen’s Houthi rebel-held capital Sanaa, medical officials and workers said.
“Ten children suffering from leukaemia have died” at the Kuwait Hospital, the Houthi rebels’ health ministry said on Friday, adding they were among a group of 19 patients aged between three and 15.
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It said “bacterial contamination” had been detected in the injections administered to the children, adding that the medication had been smuggled into the country.
Another child was in “highly critical condition”, it said.
The officials did not say when the 10 deaths occurred.
The medication had passed its expiry date, a medical source in Sanaa told the AFP news agency, asking not to be identified for security reasons.
According to a half dozen health officials and workers who spoke to The Associated Press news agency, some 50 children and teens received a smuggled chemotherapy treatment known as methotrexate that was originally manufactured in India.
They said a total of 19 children and teens had died from the expired treatment. The officials and workers spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not briefed to speak with the media.
Since the war in Yemen broke out in 2014, there has been a lack of access to basic resources, including food and medicine. It has created large smuggling networks between rebel-held Houthi and Saudi coalition-run areas.
Several doctors in Sanaa said Houthi officials secretly work in partnership with medicine smugglers who sell often expired treatment to private clinics from storage houses across the country. In doing so, they said the Houthis were limiting the availability of safe treatments.
The Houthi health ministry blamed the deaths on the Saudi coalition forces for causing a lack of available medicine in Houthi-controlled areas. It also said it has opened an investigation into the deaths.
The mother of one of the deceased children who declined to be named told the AFP that her son “had various pains, so a doctor prescribed sedatives, but his pain only got worse and he lost consciousness”.
Due to the war between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi armed group, the country’s health sector has been suffering and now is considered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, having killed in excess of 150,000 people.
In early October, a nationwide truce was not extended, which now threatens to reignite the fighting. The Houthis blamed the dead-ended negotiations on the United Nations, which has facilitated the ceasefire talks, while the US envoy to Yemen accused the rebel group of hijacking the peace talks through last-minute demands.