Expired drug kills 10 child leukemia patients in Yemen

This is a locator map for Yemen with its capital, Sanaa. (AP Photo)

CAIRO (AP) — At least 10 child leukemia patients in Yemen have died, and dozens more left seriously ill, after being administered expired doses of a cancer treatment in the rebel-held capital, medical officials and workers said on Friday.

Yemen’s ruinous conflict, now entering its eighth year, has caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and killed in excess of 150,000 people.

The children were aged between three and 15 and died at Sanaa’s Kuwait Hospital after being injected with old doses of smuggled medicine at a number of private clinics, the rebel-run Health Ministry said in a statement Thursday. The officials did not says when the 10 deaths occurred.

According to a half dozen health officials and workers who spoke to The Associated Press, some 50 children received a smuggled chemotherapy treatment known as Methotrexate that was originally manufactured in India. They said a total of 19 children 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.

Amid Yemen's war, the lack of access to basic resources, including food and medicine, has created large smuggling networks across both rebel-held Houthi and Saudi coalition-run areas.

Several doctors in Sanaa said that 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 said it has opened an investigation into the incident. In their statement, they blamed the deaths on the Saudi coalition forces for causing a lack of available medicine in Houthi-controlled areas.

The family of one of the deceased children said that their son felt pains and cramps after receiving the expired chemotherapy treatment then died five days later. “The worst thing was that the hospital administration tried to hide the truth from us,” said the boy’s father, who asked not to be named for his and his family's safety.

The failure to extend the nationwide truce in early October has threatened to reignite bloodshed after a six-month lull in fighting. The Houthis blamed the dead-ended negotiations on the U.N., which has facilitated the cease-fire talks, while the U.S. envoy to Yemen accused the rebel group of hijacking the peace talks through last-minute demands.

Iranian-backed Houthi forces seized swathes of northern Yemen and Sanaa in 2014, pushing the government into exile. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition — which included the United Arab Emirates — intervened the following year to try to restore the internationally recognized government to power.