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The new Nigerian cancer emergency

By Morenike Taire
THE Nigerian Health Minister, Professor Babatunde Shotimehin, before he got sucked up into the whole Saudi Arabia issue, had quite enough on his plate. He always had the HIV/AIDS thing, which was always destined to become a racket
This has been the main focus of my teaching, clinical practice and research activities in the past several years.

The incidence of breast cancer in Nigeria is increasing just like in other developing countries and those advanced countries that used to have a low incidence. I estimate that between 7,000 and 10,000 new cases of breast cancer developed in Nigeria in 2005.

Several factors are responsible for this increasing incidence, but the most important in my view are increasing average life expectancy, increased access to diagnostic facilities, empowerment of women which is increasing women’s ability to make independent decisions about their own healthcare, increasing Westernization of dietary, physical activity and obstetric and gynecological factors, among others

The demise of renowned lawyer and frontline human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi  to lung cancer, once again brings into sharp focus the growing burden of cancer in Nigeria on one hand, and the challenges of  control and management options available on the other.

In Nigeria, essentially, the most common cancers documented are cancers of the uterus and breast for women and cancers of the liver and prostate for men.

However,lung cancer is fast becoming a common malignancy, more so as as cancer was recently listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of the four major health problems confronting mankind in the 21st century.   In the WHO Technical Report No. 804 of 1990, it was reported that over 50 per cent of cancer victims live in  poor nations like Nigeria, which have less than 10 per cent of the resources for cancer care and control.

A number of recent developments have highlighted the serious challenges that African countries continue to face with regard to the adoption of biotechnology on the continent. While some countries such as Nigeria are spearheading their way into developing this sector, other governments and groups are hesitant. Safety, health, food security, the environment, regulatory needs and NGO concerns are among the considerations governments need to take into account in decisions on whether and how to embrace such technologies.

Nigerian government supports biotechnology initiative.

In a Memorandum of Understanding signed on May 3, 2009 the US Agency for International Development (USAID) promised to provide US$ 2.1 million (about N380 million) for three years to support the Nigeria Agriculture Biotechnology Project (NABP) and the West African Biotechnology Network (WABNET). The Nigerian government, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and USAID, jointly support this biotechnology initiative.

According to the Nigerian Science and Technology Minister, Professor Turner Isoun, the project will encourage economic growth and sustainable use of natural resources, and enhance health, environmental, industrial and agricultural development in the African sub-region. Rick Roberts, Charge D’Affaires at the US embassy in Nigeria, also highlighted benefits for Nigeria: “The yield of both cowpea and cassava crops could be more than doubled by developing varieties that are resistant to insect pests and plant diseases”.

However, Environmental Rights Action of Nigeria (ERAN), the Nigerian branch of Friends of the Earth International, criticised this project as “neo-colonial”, claiming that it threatens to erode food sovereignty and deprive Nigerians of the right to safe food. “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have potential negative environmental, economical, cultural, ethical, political and health impacts,” stated Doifie Ola, spokesperson for ERAN.

He added that Africa was becoming a dumping ground for products rejected elsewhere, with the biotechnology industry and governments “pushing” such products into Africa with no regard for bio-safety and African livelihoods.


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