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Nigeria’s first cancer center takes off

By Chinyere Amalu
Anulika Ogbonna is a 32-year-old lady diagnosed with cancer of the breast. Altough discharged from the National Hospital Abuja, she is far from healed. “When I noticed a lump in my breast, I was afraid, because I have little information on cancer of the breast. My fear was confirmed when I went to Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital for diagnosis. The lump was extracted, but I am not improving. I need surgery, but can’t afford it.”

Annuli is one of the millions of Nigerian women suffering from breast cancer and one of the 17 million new cases diagnosed per year. Cancer remains a major health problem in many developing countries including Nigeria where over 80 per cent of the cases present with late and advanced disease when only palliative treatment is possible.

Data from the World Health Organisation shows the 17 million new cases diagnosed per year will increase to an estimated 25 million cases per year by 2015. Nigeria with its population of 100 million in 1992 had an estimated 100,000 new cases per year. With the current population at 140 million (2006 census), coupled with increasing evolution of other causative factors, it is expected that new cases would rise to about 500,000 per year by 2015.

It was against this background that the First Lady Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua came up with the initiative to establish the first dedicated International Cancer Center in Nigeria and West Africa. To be located in Abuja, the center will be of international standard, wholly comprehensive and committed to promoting excellence in cancer management (diagnosis and treatment), cancer prevention, cancer education, training and research.

“Cancer is ravaging our people by the tens of thousands every year. It is sad to note that there are so many Nigerians out there who are suffering from one symptom of the disease or another but have no idea that it is the disease that is slowly eating away their lives”, said the First Lady.

In her view, the International Cancer Centre (ICC) Abuja, once established will stand as “our flagship of medical excellence. It will provide services in the area of diagnosis, treatment and research. It will represent our collective pride and commitment to one another as responsible citizens of Africa’s most prominent country.”

We can keep count of great Nigerian men and women who had lost their lives as a result of cancer either because it wasn’t detected on time or because there was no readily available cancer centre in the country. Examples abound – Mr. Yinka Craig, Mrs. Alarere Alaibe, Mr. Sonny Okosuns, Ms. Tyna Onwudiwe Oputa and other prominent Nigerians lost their lives to cancer. We remember them because they were prominent, but what about countless other Nigerians, especially the less privileged who cannot afford the lowest form of medical attention?

In Nigeria, cancer diagnostic and therapeutic facilities, trained manpower among others is still inadequate to meet the needs of the 140 million population. “Whereas there are about four radiotherapy machines per million population in UK and 8.0 machines per million population in USA respectively, Nigeria has one mega voltage radiotherapy machine per 20 million population.

“Trained personnel for multidisciplinary cancer care maintenance and management are also inadequate”, said the technical adviser of the proposed International Cancer Centre (ICCA) Prof. Francis Durosinmi-Etti.

He said the major aim of the project is to provide a dedicated comprehensive cancer care centre that is committed to promoting excellence in cancer treatment and prevention.

“The Centre is going to look at cancer in its entirety, that is pre-empting cancer in the population to preventing, and diagnosis. It is going to provide evidence-based, high quality cancer care from assessment and diagnosis through multidisciplinary approach to treatment, recovery or palliative care.”

The ICC which is expected to commence next year would be fully private driven project and will have ultra-modern facilities available in any world class cancer centre.

Whie enlightened and financially capable Nigerians afflicted with cancer are able to travel out of the country for professional medical attention in the form of diagnosis and treatment, many still lose their lives to the scourge regardless of their seeming affluences.

“The only way out for people like Anulika and other Nigerians who are living with cancer is to join hands with the First Lady to realise the dream of establishing a center that is affordable for the average Nigerian.”


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