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Is Nigeria winning the war against cancer?


It cannot be over emphasised that cancer and its destructive effects are very much in Nigeria. The  scourge and its ravaging effects have long been a recurring decimal and several  Nigerian families have experienced the agony of losing relations to the disease.

Sadly, in Nigeria, cancer is seen as a death sentence not only because of the nature of the disease but due to a number of reasons such as lack of awareness on the larger proportion of the populace, lack of information, ill equipped hospitals, lack of manpower, high cost of treatment and fewer treatment centres and lack of will power on the government to implement already made policies to tackle the scourge.

Cancer is a class of diseases in which a group of cells display uncontrolled growth, invasion that intrudes upon and destroys adjacent tissues, and sometimes metastasis, or spreading to other locations in the body via lymph or blood. There are various types of cancer, cervical, ovarian, breast, lung, cancer of the blood, and prostrate cancers, among others. However, the most common type of cancer in Nigeria today are breast, cervical and ovarian cancer.

There are two major causes of cancer; environmental factor and others caused by hereditary genetic. Some of the common environmental factors leading to cancer as indicated include: tobacco, bad dieting especially calories, infections, radiation, lack of physical activity, and environmental pollutants. These environmental factors, according to experts cause or enhance abnormalities in the genetic material of cells.

Although, cancer has been described as a killer disease, experts say when detected early, patients diagnosed with these cancers may be cured. Unfortunately, the health seeking behaviour of Nigerians has continued to hinder successful treatment of cancer. According to the Minister of Health, many patients present late to the hospitals.

*Cancer walk

Presently in Nigeria, cancer incidences are common. No week passes that you do not hear that a Nigerian has died of cancer.  Hundreds of thousands  are dying silently. Not much appears to have been done to stem the tide of deaths.

Just last week, the minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu disclosed that data collected from 11 Federal tertiary hospitals by the National System of Cancer Registries showed 7,000  new documented cases of cancer which also corresponded with the average estimated 100,000 new cases of cancer reported in Nigeria annually. From the data, 60 per cent of cancers occur in women and 39.8 per cent in men.

Breast cancer accounts for 40 per cent of women cancers, closely followed by cervical cancer of 17.9 per cent, lymphomas and ovarian cancer are next.  “Whereas in men, the commonest reported cancer is prostate cancer which accounts for 29.2 per cent of male cancers, closely followed by colorectal cancer and lymphomas.

Observers say these deaths are unnecessary and untimely. The World Health Organisation, WHO, projects that about 84 million people may die by 2015 if urgent strategies are not implemented to arrest the cancer scourge. Less than three years to 2015, it is indeed worthy of concern and should not be taken for granted by a country like Nigeria.

National Coordinator, National Cancer Prevention Programme, NCPP, Dr. Kin Egwuonwu, cancer is both preventable and curable and early detection can increase the number of survivors.

But how true is the statement in Nigeria when 10 Nigerians die every hour from cancer? And when a Nigerian is diagnosed of cancer, friends and relatives including the patient have concluded that the patient is marking time waiting for the D- day.  From the present situation, health watchers say the nation may have surrendered to the cancer scourge.

Also, in an article tagged: “The Sad Truth about Cancer in Nigeria” Prof. Remi Ajekigbe, Consultant Radiotherapist and Oncologist, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, was quoted to have said that 2 million cancer cases are recorded in Nigeria and out of the figure, 10 percent or about 200,000 have access to hospitals with radiotherapy facilities. About 5 percent of this number i.e. 10,000 have resources to go abroad where they pay between $10,000 – $15,000 per patient for a 3-5weeks course of radiotherapy.

He also observed that Nigeria’s mortality and morbidity statistics for cancer are high, due to the ‘late presentation syndrome’ involving 83-87 percent of cancer patients, running up bills of N150,000 to N350,000 every three weeks, for as long as the patient survives.

Experts have predicted that by 2020, the number of cancer patients in Nigeria is going to rise from 24 million to 42 million as speculated 21 years ago. It is also feared that by same 2020, death rates from cancer in Nigerian males and females may reach 72.7/100,000 and 76/100,000 respectively.

Again, with a dismal public health infrastructure and late detection of the various cancers, critical observers say this has led to worrisome increase in the mortality. The dilemma faced by cancer patients is not only on the cost of treatment but the fact that the country has only about 200 oncologists with a handful of centres exclusively focused on cancer treatment and research. This alone suggests that cancer should be seen as a major health problem that requires urgent attention in Nigeria.

The Federal Government had in 2008 established a 5-Year Nigeria Cancer Control Plan, (2008 – 2013), on advocacy and awareness creation, cancer prevention, early detection through regular screening and cancer management.  Unfortunately, observers say Nigerians are yet to reap the benefit of this plan four years after the establishment of the Plan.

However, despite these efforts, many Nigerians believe that cogent requirements have sadly not been met. For instance, they emphasise the importance of certain drugs needed in the management of cancer. These drugs and those needed as palliatives, especially morphines, are not readily available.  From the forgoing, it has become imperative for the country to move away from mere rhetoric and settle down for real business of implementation of the various cancer policies.

Certain factors should be put in place, to meet the challenges and diagnoses of the different forms of cancer. One of these factors should be the establishment of adequate cancer screening centres across the country.

Another requirement would be for these cancer-screening centres to be well- equipped to meet the challenges of diagnosis and management of the disease.


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