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Exploited! Breast cancer survivors cry out

Allege sharp practices by doctors

By Chioma Obinna

ALTHOUGH they have survived breast cancer, one of the most debilitating disorders in the world, the  pains and agony of undergoing treatment continue to haunt them.

All over the land, and across the country, breast cancer survivors are crying out. They are lamenting lack of functional medical equipment, series of exploitation by medical doctors and syndicated cancer drug racketing among health workers.

Good Health Weekly gathered that in public hospitals, medical doctors and other health care providers readily take advantage of patients, even as allegations of illegal sales and distribution of drugs as well as rampant diversion of patients to private hospitals continue to make the rounds.

Investigations reveal that the series of sharp practices and underhand measures being perpertrated in connivance with other healthcare providers, are preventing easy access to essential cancer treatment and care.

Further, it was gathered that patients often end up paying as much as five times what they would have paid in the public hospitals for treatment , no thanks to the some doctors who take patients away from government owned facilities.

Some cancer survivors made startling revelations during the Care Organisation Public Enlightenment, COPE’s monthly Support Group meeting in Lagos last week. For these and other survivors there is urgent need for government to step in and save patients from dying from cancer due to poor access to treatment and funds.

While some allege serious exploitation by medical doctors in public health institutions, others question why some pharmaceutical companies are having monopoly of manufacturie and supply of most cancer drugs.

Survivors speak

Cross section of breast cancer survivors during the June Support Group meeting of COPE in Lagos.
Cross section of breast cancer survivors during the June Support Group meeting of COPE in Lagos.

Beatrice, a five-year breast cancer survivor, said: “We cannot afford to lose more Nigerians to any form of cancer. Government should establish a comprehensive cancer centre that will offer free screening, subsidised chemotherapy and radiotherapy, where  oncologists and other experts should be employed strictly by Federal government.”

Beatrice, who faulted the recent announcement on plans to purchase mobile cancer van worth millions, narrated how lack of functional radiotherapy machines is hindering treatment across the country. She said the real problem cancer patients face is access to treatment.  “At a time it was only the radiotherapy at EKO Hospital that worked; people were coming from Abuja and different parts of Nigeria to queue.  Sometimes, I got to EKO Hospital by 3am.

“The one at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, is always down. Government should make the machines available in both state and Federal hospitals so that people can easily access these services in their states rather than travelling from Lagos to Benin or from Owerri to Lagos.

Exploitation

Narrating her experience, Cherry, another survivor recounted how some doctors in public hospitals falsify treatment cost especially for well-off patients.

“I did my radiotherapy at the University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, but I went through hell. In the process I discovered atrocities doctors commit.  For a procedure that ordinarily should cost around N13,500 officially, some patients are charged as high as N200, 000.

“If drugs and other treatment are  made cheaper many people will not die. The cost of treatment should be made low as possible for people to live and contribute to the country,” Cherry stated.

Ifelola, another survivor also explained how lack of chemical and reagents as well as scanning machines have been stalling her treatment.   She wondered why a teaching hospital would claim it ran out of reagents since last year and the new stock brought few weeks ago got expired.

“Another problem is reagents for diagnosis. It is appalling that a patient will go to a teaching hospital and be told that there are no reagents. The same hospital will now refer you to a private hospital where you will pay up to five times what you ought to pay.

“Are we saving lives? That alone can even demoralise if not kill a person. That is why people are dying.”

Ifelola alleged that continued exploitation from doctors who divert patients to their own hospital in the name of making extra pay.  “The exploitation by doctors in public hospitals is too much. Most times these doctors refer you to their own hospitals because of money. No one said they should not make their money but they should know that they are dealing with human beings.

She further alleged drug racketing among health workers, adding that doctors are not only inflating the prices but prescribing wrong drugs for them in the name of taking commission from manufacturers.

High cost of drugs

“Many of us are no longer taking our drugs because we cannot afford them. Some of these drugs are sold between N25, 000 – N30, 000 and N450,000.  The government should stop this trend.  When they see you in the public hospitals they will direct you to their hospitals and bill you higher.  Even in the hospital, they don’t attend to you well when you are not rich.  It happened to me at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, and I blasted them and told them that  because I have one breast does not make me less a person.”

Challenging the government to investigate the anomalies, she called for full subsidy of drugs for cancer.

“Government should monitor the doctors and the people who sell the drugs. Most people die because they cannot afford the drugs. As a cancer patient, you are already unbalanced, and you get to hospital and they will still talk to you shabbily, no form of information or enlightenment on what is being treated and how you are to live.

“There should be counselling. You are supposed to go to hospital and get some form of relief, but you go to the General Hospital you end up being depressed.”

Drug theft

Carol, yet another survivor, stated: “I am a victim of drug theft at LUTH. Some of these active chemotherapy drugs are expensive, and you are supposed to consume probably about 300g for one person but they will spread it to about three to five people. Now tell me how it will be effective?  I was a victim.  It happens every time at LUTH,” she added.

She also questioned why some pharmaceutical companies should have monopoly over production and supply of drugs, adding that when other marketers and producers are allowed into the market, prices of drugs will be reduced drastically.

Speaking to Good Health Weekly after the monthly support group meeting for breast cancer survivors, Executive Director, Care Organisation Public Enlightenment, COPE, Mrs Ebunola Anozie  stressed the need for doctors to prescribe the right drugs.

“It is okay if  doctors collect commission from companies, when they sell certain amount of drugs, but they should prescribe . Don’t give somebody a medication that is not going to work. It is more like killing that person.”


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.