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Drugs running out for Lebanese cancer patients

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Christine Tohme had already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer when Lebanon's financial system began to unravel two years ago.

She never expected that meltdown would threaten her life.

The 50-year-old was diagnosed with third stage colon cancer in February. She underwent surgery, and was prescribed six sessions of chemotherapy.

But she's only had three, and hospitals are running out of vital drugs. As cancer has spread to her lymph nodes, she's been told there's no guarantee she'll finish the chemo.

Fearing she could only have months left to live if she can't, Tohme has taken to the streets, despite her ailing health.

Joining other cancer patients, doctors and organizations at a protest in Beirut on Thursday.

"We beg those responsible to give us medication. Our lives depend on it - if there's medication we live, if there is no medication, we don't just die. We suffer, and then we die."

Lebanese healthcare workers have warned for months of declining stocks of vital medical supplies - many pharmacy shelves are empty.

Lebanon's foreign reserves are running out as they're used to subsidize fuel, wheat and medicine.

Including cancer drugs; so in order for agents to import them they have to wait for financing from the central bank, which has all but drained its reserves.

A cancer specialist told Reuters about 10% of cancer patients have been unable to source treatment in the past couple of months.

Bahaa Constantine is one of them.

"I have reached the fourth cycle, each cycle of this treatment is four sessions. After all I endured – I lost my nails and hair and my body changed – I reached this point and now there are no drugs. This has really set me back, and there's nothing we can do."

The health ministry wasn't available for comment, but caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan, who has been raiding depots storing large quantities of drugs and medical supplies, has partly blamed the shortages on hoarding by traders.

At Thursday's sit-in, patients said they were reaching out to whoever could help them get a second chance at life.

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