War Has Caused Growth of Cancer Rates in Chechnya
BBC’s Russian service has published a special report on the rising cancer cases in the Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.
According to the report, doctors in the Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria are sounding the alarm; the unfavorable environment and post-war stress have led to a sharp increase in cancer cases. The spike in incidence is not being seen only in older people, but it is being detected very often in teenagers and young people between the ages of 25 and 30. Today, more than 16,000 patients are registered with various forms of cancer and each year this figure increases by roughly 3,500 people. This data may not be completely accurate and is unlikely to reflect the real numbers due to a lack of medical facilities in Chechnya. Many patients go to Russia or other countries for examinations and treatment. For this reason, it is impossible to register their cases. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death within the Russian Federation. The main reason is that patients turn to doctors at a very late stage.
Doctors see several reasons for the sharp growth of cancer. One of the principal causes is the disastrous environment in many parts of Chechnya. According to data, which was collected at different times by the American company Tetra Tech Inc, about a third of the state is actually an ecological disaster zone, with more than 40% of the land considered unfavorable from an environmental point of view. Almost all of the water sources are contaminated in one way or another and the state is on the verge of large-scale outbreaks of epidemic disease. In addition to general issues specific to the ecology of many former Soviet republics and regions in Chechnya, there are several other specific factors.
For example, the impact of two wars, in which heavy weapons and aircraft were actively used. Although official Russian data rejects the use of chemical or biological weapons in the Russian-Chechen wars, many locals believe that the growth of cancers and congenital deformations in children may be indirect evidence of the use of such weapons by the Russian military. Oncologists also associate increases in oil production with the spike in incidence. Handicraft methods of extraction and evaporation of oil contaminate large areas. The oil production, which is carried out by the Russian government, is also often undertaken without necessary measures that are used to protect the environment. The Russian government’s official strategy for development is contaminating the areas of production, storage, and transportation of oil in Chechnya. It is recognized as a factor in the high environmental risk, potentially threatening a major disaster. Despite all this, Ruslan Saladov, a professor from the Rostov Research Institute of Oncology, who has long been occupied with patients from Chechnya, said that the environment is only an additional factor; the main cause is the stress associated with fighting and a difficult post-war life.
A 35-year-old woman named Roza, who just returned from Rostov-on-Don in Russia after a surgery to remove her breast, told a pretty typical story: “My mother died of cancer two years ago and then three months later my aunt died. So, when they told me that there was a suspicion of breast cancer – for me it was a shock, I did not have two months to gather my strength and go through a full examination”.
In addition, 27-year-old Eliza buried her husband just a month ago. “He died from brain cancer within three months. Of course, it had to do with his stressful experiences. Throughout the war we were in Grozny and lived in cellars for months. Several times he was taken by Russian soldiers and then released. Even now, when they say that we have a peaceful life, we continue to worry about the education of our children and we cannot find jobs to support our families. These things cause great stress,” she said.
For two years, a National Cancer Center has acted in the Russian occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. However, its construction is never ending. Thus, the Chechen oncologists may only use chemotherapy. Surgical and radiation treatment are not available in Chechnya. The center operates more as a diagnostic center and sends patients to the hospital in Rostov-on-Don in Russia. The Rostov Oncology Institute is the only place where Chechen patients can find treatment. Moscow is very expensive for ordinary Chechens and also, there is an unwritten law that states “they don’t accept Chechens there”.
In spite of everything, 34-year-old Ayza continues to raise money for her son, in order to take him in Moscow after an unsuccessful operation and five courses of chemotherapy in Rostov-on-Don. “In Chechnya, they could not diagnose him. On the road, my son dramatically worsened and we were taken to a hospital in Kostroma, Russia. However, all requests from the doctors were rejected by Moscow. They said there is no space and we cannot fulfill the costs. We then came back to Rostov-on-Don and sold our car to collect money. We want to go Moscow after the May holidays, at least for a consultation because his situation requires more resources and operations,” said Ayza.
*Text was written by Waynakh Online and edited by Michael Capobianco