“Russians have no opportunity to fly to any country of the world for treatment, even if it is a matter of life and death”

The representative of the Turkish cancer clinic about the terrible consequences of closing borders for cancer patients from Russia

“Russians have no opportunity to fly to any country of the world for treatment, even if it is a matter of life and death”
Photo: courtesy of Anton Kazarin

The coronavirus pandemic followed by border closures has created insurmountable obstacles for cancer patients who need life-saving treatment abroad. Planned operations in foreign clinics were a matter of life and death for them, and with the introduction of restrictions, many lost their chances to be cured. Anton Kazarin, the head of the representative office of the Istanbul Anadolu medical centre, told about the problem faced by Russian and Tatarstan patients of the Turkish cancer hospital in the author's column for Realnoe Vremya.

Quarantine for incoming passengers and sanaviation as the only way to come

In the context of the coronavirus epidemic, the clinic is working like all medical centres in Turkey. But for international patients, we have long introduced tests for coronavirus, which are performed by the patient and their accompanying persons. When the situation began to deteriorate, we also introduced a mandatory 14-day quarantine, which must take place in a hotel. Besides, we had to limit the number of attendants — now there can only be one per patient. Well, if the patient does not have their own means of protection, then we give them a mask.

Unfortunately, for Russian patients who did not have time to come to us for treatment before the borders had been completely closed, we cannot provide any planned treatment at the moment.

The only option for a patient to get to Turkey is sanaviation, but these are isolated cases, since the cost of organizing such flight, even in the minimum version, if no special medical personnel is needed on board, costs 25,000-35,000 euros. Of course, only few can afford it, or some large enterprises.

One in 30 Russian patients needs urgent evacuation

As for the Russians who have found themselves in Turkey under the conditions of border closures, we are in constant contact with the Russian Consul in Istanbul. As soon as we became aware of the upcoming restrictions, we were asked to make a list of all patients with their contacts and places of residence, as well as a description of their condition. We have provided this list. So far, out of 30 Russian patients and accompanying persons, only one woman needs to leave for Russia urgently. As for the others, we had several planned operations last week, and they are also planned for this week. After that, it should take about 10 days before they are ready to fly, so there are no large problems with people who cannot return to Russia. Moreover, people consciously prefer to stay close to the clinic to be able to continue treatment because oncology is a long process.

People consciously prefer to stay close to the clinic to be able to continue treatment because oncology is a long process

Travel ban and “frozen” scheduled operations

Unfortunately, now Russians have no opportunity to fly to any country of the world for treatment, even if it is a matter of life and death. This is a great tragedy for those people who cannot be helped in Russia. For example, I have heard about children who have planned a bone marrow transplant, a donor has already been found, stem cells have been collected — and that's all, the process has stopped and the child can't leave. And this may be his only chance of life.

Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis / AP (rtvi.com)
Unfortunately, now Russians have no opportunity to fly to any country of the world for treatment, even if it is a matter of life and death. This is a great tragedy for those people who cannot be helped in Russia.

Crisis as a push for telemedicine

This crisis will change a lot of industries and our way of life. If we are talking about medicine and medical tourism, I expect a boom in telemedicine. We are now promoting these services because quite often, more than half of the time, it is not about surgery, but, for example, about the correct choice of treatment regimens — chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy. But this can be done remotely: the patient undergoes the necessary examinations, and we connect them with the doctor, providing the survey data and making their translation. The final stage is a face-to-face online consultation with a doctor and an offer of a treatment regimen.

Cases when the operation is refused in Russia, but it is carried out in Turkey, are quite frequent. But to a greater extent, patients fly for other reasons. This is a search for better service, good care, recovery, less traumatic surgery

With the right therapy, people with cancer can live for years. The important thing here is in choosing the right regimens, and monitoring the patient's condition, willingness to quickly change the scheme of treatment because the disease can “adjust” for treatment. Previously, many people constantly went to another country to control the disease and select the right therapy. Now they can do this remotely. And this opportunity, I think, will greatly change the industry of international, global medicine.

By Anton Kazarin, photos provided by the author