Tumour in the pediatric cancer center
30 November 2020, 21:02 | Tatsiana Bublikava, Naviny.by
On 30 November parents of the patients of the Republican Research and Practice Center [RRPC] for Pediatric Oncology, Hematology and Immunology [POHI] began collecting signatures under an appeal to the Minister of Health Dzmitry Pinevich. They are demanding a stop in political pressure on the doctors in order to “save the lives and health of our children.”
A political conflict between the medical employees of the RRPC and the Ministry of Health resulted in the sudden dismissal of the director of the pediatric cancer center Natallia Kanaplia who refused to let go of the employees undesirable for the authorities. According to the employees of the RRPC POHI the authorities are threatening to shut the center down, resulting in children having to go to Moscow for treatment, if the doctors’ resistance does not subside. Some of the doctors resigned in protest against the violence and out of solidarity with the already former director.
This concerns a leading medical institution, the only one in the country, where children are brought to fight for life not only from all over the country but also from abroad. The other regions in Belarus do not have neither the specialists of the required level nor the equipment. Children are often brought here in critical condition since local doctors are unable to make the correct diagnosis and treat them for something else.
And today the authorities are making a choice between saving their position and children’s lives.
On 23 November the then acting Minister of Health Dzmitry Pinevich brought in a new director, presumably loyal to the authorities, Anzhelika Sontsava. This was a big surprise for both the employees and their former director. Now the medics do not have the same protection against the Ministry [of Health].
The parents of the center’s patients want to protect their “savior” doctors against the pressure from the administration and the authorities, against persecution and lay-offs. This is the reason for collecting signatures under a touching, emotional and truthful appeal.
Naviny.by talked to both parties in this story about the situation in this medical center: a mother of a young patient, the current and the former directors and an employee who resigned.
“What will be the point with this hospital if they remove all the doctors?!”
Kseniya Lomysh’s son is being treated at the cancer center for acute leukemia for the second year in a row. Their doctor hematologist-oncologist resigned from the outpatient department of the hospital on political grounds.
Kseniya signed the appeal to the minister and explained her reasons: “Somehow in our country these types of [medical] specialists are few. And they are mainly working in our center in Barauliany. We got in here in 2019, our [medical] record’s number was 864, and in that year more than 3000 children were tended to at the outpatient department of the hospital, while there’s not enough doctors. And what is happening now? The doctor that had our case, Iryna Sharafanovich, was forced to resign. She is a top specialist. Our hospital lost yet another hematologist while there’s already a shortage of specialists.
I know a woman that lives in Biaroza, who has to constantly travel to Barauliany with her child since there are no specialists in Biaroza or Brest. Everything relies on this cancer hospital.
What will be the point of having this hospital if all doctors will be removed?!”
Kseniya only has good things to say about the hospital. “It’s a very good hospital with modern equipment that appeared due to the efforts of its former director. They have a unique laboratory for genetic biotechnology – a certain hope for terminally sick children. The same type of a laboratory can be found in Spain. We got it due to the efforts of our doctors. This is another reason why we need these doctors, for this initiative to continue, so that our children stay alive.”
“What kind of pressure on doctors are you talking about?”
The appeal from the parents states: “Instead of having a constructive dialog with the doctors who express their position, we can only see manipulations with responsibility and pressure that lead to layoffs. Doctors who work at the RRPC POHI are not disposable materials. They are specialists with unique experience within one of the most complex areas of medicine.”
We turned to the new director of the center Anzhelika Sontsava for comments. Here’s our conversation:
“What type of pressure on the doctors do you want to know about? We are working as usual, as of today there have been no resignations. What pressure on the doctors are you talking about?”
“We have information about 16 applications for resignation.”
“So that it is not done over the phone, come over in person and we will talk. Some media published fake information regarding these applications… It is a fake. There were and there are no applications.”
“If the authorities will ask you to fire those who disagree, are you going to do it?”
“Are you listening to me or trying to provoke me on anything? Come over and we will talk.”
End of conversation.
The former center’s director Natallia Kanaplia refused to comment only saying that “collective appeals to the minister is the parents' prerogative, they are free to act as they see fit.”
“My heart goes out to the patients, but I cannot go along with funding the violence and agree to that the doctors are thrown around like rubbish”
Hematologist-oncologist Iryna Sharafanovich, the doctor who resigned from the center who had the case of Kseniya Lomysh’s son, told Naviny.by how she made this difficult decision.
Iryna Uladzimirauna has more than 30 years of work experience, the highest qualification category, and has worked in hematology for 12 years. Here is her story:
“The death of Raman Bandarenka became the final straw. Immediately after, on 13 November, we found out the outcome of the meeting between the director of our center and the Ministry of Health. The meeting was about the letter against violence and mass arrests of the healthcare workers who participated in protest rallies. This letter demanding a dialog between the Ministry of Health and the doctors, ending violence, arrests and layoffs of the doctors, was signed by 200 medical employees of our center.
To this we were given the answer: our letter is nothing more than a frame up, it carries no weight, and the actions of the Ministry of Health will continue as they did before. What have you not got enough of? You’re getting your salary, the regions and Mahiliou have it worse. No one is irreplaceable. This is what our director got told. Even to the point that the center might be shut down if the doctors continue to participate in the protests actively. Then the children will have to go to Moscow for treatment. They might shut the department of diagnostics PET-CT (many employees were arrested at rallies): two years ago it wasn’t even there and people lived without. Like, it’s not a problem, we’ll train new specialists.
In addition our salaries will go down from December as more funds are needed for the police forces. It was mentioned that there will be deductions from the budget for police and security forcse, since they need it more. I was shocked. And then the death of Raman Bandarenka…
You see, I cannot work for those who spread violence. When I see how people get beaten during arrest, when I see the diagnoses and deaths by violence, I am hurting pain inside. I cannot tolerate it. I cannot provide medical care normally, my brain and my mental state is in an abnormal state. I am scared to make a mistake, to harm. I am ready to help the sick and inquired, but paying taxes to those who spread violence…
If only we got heard, since this is not the first letter, if someone came to start a dialog. But nobody did.
After my application I did not resign straight away. I had time to think and calm down until 26 November. But on 23 November our director Natallia Kanaplia was fired. Her dismissal was politically motivated since she did not fire anyone who was arrested, against the demands from the Ministry of Health. So on 26 November I made the decision to leave.
My colleague and head of the department Nadzeya Aliaksandrauna Piatrouskaya resigned as soon as she knew Kanaplia was dismissed. The new director Anzhelika Sontsava did not say a word, just signed the application. Because Piatrouskaya and I were arrested.
I am in solidarity with Natallia Kanaplia, she is a first-class oncologist, a wonderful director who fits her position as director perfectly. This is a person who has worked in pediatric oncology all her life. And so, just remove her like that in one swoop?!
Of course I understand the patients are left behind, my heart goes out to them… But I cannot adjust to the situation where doctors are thrown around like rubbish and I will stand my ground. This is true everywhere, as my colleagues are also dismissed from other hospitals.
I am convinced and I live by this principle: a doctor can only provide qualified medical help only when the medical law is complied with and with the doctor’s freedom of thought. But I do not feel safe at work. People were taken to police stations from their place of work. This means we are working in a lawless state. A doctor cannot provide qualified medical help while under pressure. My goal is to convey to the patient all the information available and not hide any data, statistics or the availability of the medication.”
Collective appeal of the parents to the Minister of Health of Belarus Dzmitry Pinevich
To the Minister of Health of Belarus D.L.Pinevich
From the parents of the patients of the RRPC for Pediatric Oncology, Hematology and Immunology
We, the undersigned, parents of children with cancer, are shocked and outraged by the dismissal and persecution of our doctors for reasons unrelated to their professional activities. We urge You, as a person personally responsible for the health care in Belarus and, ultimately, the health of the nation, to do everything possible to preserve the medical teams and give them the opportunity to treat our children without fear for their lives and freedom.
Unfortunately, we are now all witnessing medical workers everywhere being fired and arrested for their humanistic stance. But without this stance, real medical care is impossible. This position motivates the doctor to remain in the profession, despite the very mediocre pay, high workload and risks associated with their own health, especially now, during a pandemic.
And you, Dzmitry Leanidavich, throw around highly qualified medical personnel as unnecessary rubbish, while it is in your power to provide them with collective, administrative and human support.
For unclear reasons, the director of the RRPC for Pediatric Oncology, Hematology and Immunology Natallia Kanaplia, a highly qualified world-renowned oncologist, one of the unique specialists with experience working with oncology of the central nervous system, was fired. Instead of a constructive dialogue with doctors expressing their position, we see only manipulation of responsibility and pressure up to and including dismissals. Doctors working at the RRPC POHI are not disposable material. They are specialists with unique experience in one of the most challenging areas of medicine. Have you ever done a lumbar puncture on a 2-3-year-old child without anesthesia? And a puncture of the bone marrow of the ilium? Sternum? Here, every specialist with extensive practice is worth his weight in gold – how painful the procedure is and how effective the treatment is depends on his skills; and in the case of pediatric oncology, every day, each next step costs the little person huge, almost heroic efforts. Doctors do a little feat every day, accompanying their brave little patients, because that’s their job. The lives of those who have not yet lived in this world, but are already looking death in the face, are in their hands. Aren’t you, and we all unable to support them in this cruel and difficult, but such an important vocation?
Dzmitry Leanidavich, tell us, how did it come to the point that people who are fighting for the survival of children, for their long, full life, are humiliated, thrown out into the street after long years of irreproachable service; thrown into prisons, where they are infected with coronavirus? For what? What kind of advantage do you expect to receive by ostentatiously sacrificing the health of our children for the sake of an opportunistic gain? What could be more important for you as the Minister of Health?
We call for an end to layoffs and persecution of doctors in order to preserve the unique medical institution and the very concept of humanity in medicine. And first of all, for the sake of the life and health of our children.