BASRA (Reuters) - Basra Children's Hospital which specialises in cancer treatment has cut admissions by half since May due to the novel coronavirus, its director said, and is battling to keep children safe from infection with a new isolation ward and testing of staff.
Hospital director Ali Abulhussein al-Idani said that since June, five children were diagnosed with the illness upon admission to the hospital, including a six month-old child, who died of complications.
"The immune system of cancer patients is very weak, it can be close to nil. If a patient (with cancer) catches the coronavirus, he or she will be affected badly and rapidly," he added.
The hospital has boosted ward cleaning and limited visitors to just one per child, is treating more patients as outpatients, as well as routinely testing staff.
A health ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Iraq has registered 81,757 cases of the novel coronavirus including 3,345 deaths as of Tuesday.
For the parents of children with cancer, the fear of them contracting coronavirus is intense.
Awatef Mohamed, sitting next to her 4 year-old daughter Iman, who is being treated for kidney cancer, said: "If she falls ill with the coronavirus, her health condition will deteriorate. She'll have to stop chemotherapy to be treated for this other disease".
Cancer is one of the biggest causes of death in the country, according to a 2019 World Health Organization (WHO) report.
The incidence of cancer is increasing in Iraq and many people suspect contamination from weapons used in years of war and the accompanying pollution could be a cause.
A lack of access to cancer treatment, the high price of cancer drugs and a generally weak healthcare system in Iraq exacerbate the problem.
Basra Children's Hospital was founded in 2010 with the support of foreign donors, and over the 12 last months admitted about 2550 patients.
(Reporting by Mohammed Aty, writing by Amina Ismail, Charlotte Bruneau and Mohammed Katfan; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)