A child plays with a balloon inside the cancer ward at The Children's Hospital in Damascus, Syria February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
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In the cancer ward at Damascus Children's Hospital, doctors are struggling with a critical shortage of specialist drugs to treat their young patients – and it's not just due to the general chaos of the Syrian civil war.Six years of conflict have brought the Syrian health service, once one of the best in the Middle East, close to collapse. Before the conflict, Syria produced 90 percent of the medicines it needed but anti-cancer drugs were among those where it traditionally relied on imports.Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO representative in Syria, said medicine imports have been hit by significant cuts in the government's health budget since the war began in 2011 plus a 90 percent drop in the value of the Syrian pound, which has made some pharmaceuticals prohibitively expensive.However, by clamping down on financial transactions and barring much business with the Syrian government, the sanctions are indirectly affecting trade in pharmaceuticals.Pharmex, the state-owned company that buys drugs for government-funded hospitals across Syria, was able to provide only 5-10 percent of the cancer medication that is required, he told Reuters.
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