At least 10 child leukaemia patients in Yemen have died after being given expired doses of a cancer treatment in the rebel-held capital Sanaa, medical officials and staff have said.
The children were among a group 19 of patients 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 Iran-backed Houthi rebels’ health ministry said on Thursday.
It said one child was in a “highly critical condition”.
However, according to half a dozen health officials and workers who spoke to the Associated Press, about 50 children had received the chemotherapy treatment known as Methotrexate that was originally manufactured in India, and a total of 19 had died.
The family of one of the children said their son felt pains and cramps after receiving the chemotherapy treatment and 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.
Yemen’s civil war since 2014 has cut off ready access to essentials such as food and medicine, giving rise to smuggling networks across the largely rebel-held north as well as in the government-controlled south.
The Houthis are often accused of blocking or holding up deliveries of humanitarian aid, on which 80 per cent of Yemen's 30 million population depend for their survival.
Several doctors in Sanaa told the Associated Press 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 “bacterial contamination” had been detected in the injections administered to the children, and it had opened an investigation into the incident.
It blamed the Saudi-led coalition that supports the government for the lack of medicine in rebel-held areas.
The failure to extend a nationwide truce in early October has threatened to reignite bloodshed after a six-month lull in fighting.
The Houthis blames the UN, which brokered the truce, while the US envoy to Yemen accuses the rebel group of hijacking the peace talks through last-minute demands.
The Iranian-backed rebels seized swathes of northern Yemen and Sanaa in 2014, pushing the government into exile. The Saudi-led coalition intervened the following year to try to restore the internationally recognised government to power.
— With reporting from AP and AFP.