…Machine that could have saved 15,000 annually left in manufacturer’s crate for four years
…Adewole to the rescue
By Chioma Obinna
Mention the word, ‘cancer’ and fear grips everyone around. To many people, it is gradually becoming the number one killer illness. Is it really? Yes, the claim that cancer is a killer illness is not only alarming but is also true.
According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, estimates, 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer ever year, while about 80,000 die from the disease. The report also shows that Nigeria’s cancer death ratio of 4 in 5 affected persons is one of the worst in the world. More worrisome is that these Nigerians are faced with the challenges of treatment right from the point of diagnosis, and chemotherapy, to the radiotherapy point.
In short, cancer patients in Nigeria face uncertain fate as they do not get the required treatment as and when due. The unfortunate situation has been attributed to the collapse of cancer treatment and support services at designated public and private health institutions nationwide.
Sadly, a study conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, IARC, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, USA, revealed that whereas 12.7 million new cases of cancer were discovered in 2008 with 7.6 million cancer related deaths recorded, by 2012, the number of deaths globally had increased by 100 per cent to 14 million with a projection that, by the end of 2030, 30 million people, representing 39.6 per cent of both men and women living with cancer, will be dead.
An analysis revealed that 56 per cent of new cancer cases occurred in developing countries with Africa having the highest number of morbidity and mortality, owing to geometric increase in population growth, with cervical, breast and prostate cancers leading the chart. Sadly, Nigeria has the highest concentration of cancer cases in Africa as 100,000 new cases occur yearly and 15 per cent deaths recorded, representing 20 per cent of the death ratio.
An unfortunate perspective to the menace is the myopic view that cancer is a disease of the rich amid the reality that the poor and downtrodden are also suffering in silence.
Several months back, treatment in the country was so bad that almost all the cancer centres were non-operational. There was no single federal health facility where radiotherapy could be performed as seven of the teaching hospitals where such diagnostic equipment were domiciled were down, making Nigeria to lose billions of foreign exchange to medical tourism either in India, China, South Africa and now Ghana.
However, there seems to be a ray of hope with the renewed position of the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, who has pledged to reinvigorate cancer treatment centres.
If his current efforts are sustained, cancer will no longer be seen as a death sentence as patients will be treated in the country by Nigerian doctors and nurses.
Adewole, a renowned doctor and one time President, African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer, AORTIC, had, on assumption of office, come up with a 5- year strategic plan for the organization and development Capacity of African Physicians and Nurses to manage, treat and prevent cancer.
He promised to build seven centres of excellence for the management of the illness in the country, but no thanks to the global economic recession and the huge deficit of 48 per cent in expected revenue which made the promise by the professor of obstetrics and gynaecology unrealizable in the past months.
But there seems to be renewed hope for cancer treatment with the commissioning of the radiotherapy centre with new multilevel linear accelerator used at the National Hospital Abuja, NHA.
The equipment was commissioned by the wife of the Vice President, Mrs Dolapo Osinbajo.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that the centre was conceived in late 2016 when the Minister paid a working visit to the hospital to assess the state of infrastructure and discovered that whereas a brand new radiotherapy machine was purchased and supplied in 2013, the machine was not installed but left in the crate the manufacturer imported it with.
Part of the challenges was the lack of a bunker where the machine will be placed. Adewole immediately secured approval from President Muhammadu Buhari to complete the bunker under construction while provision was made for another bunker to accommodate extra radiotherapy machine in the future and training of the staff to operate the machine in South Africa.
To Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo, it was an effort worthy of recognition. She said, “I commend the Federal Ministry of Health and the hospital management for making this facility a reality.”
The VP’s wife described the death of close to 15,000 Nigerians annually as unimaginable and assured that the Buhari administration will ensure that qualitative health delivery system is restored.
“I look forward to a day that the cure of cancer shall finally come but I am delighted that despite limited resources, the country is taking giant strides in the right direction; with the installation of the machine, there is hope for cancer patients as they will be helped with the facility”, she said.
The Minister of Health, while also speaking at the occasion, said the decay in medical infrastructure inherited by the administration in terms of equipment, logistics and foreign relations with international partners was enormous.
Adewole explained that based on the review of international atomic energy conducted in 2013, only South Africa and Egypt have the material capability of treating and managing cancer in Africa.
He spoke of the commitment of government to upgrade other cancer centres in the 2018 budget in order to minimize the burden of the illness and associated death rates, re-emphasizing the positive effect the machine will have on other vital organs of the body when diagnosis is carried out.
The encouraging report about radiotherapy at the National Hospital is that about 100 cancer patients can now use the machine daily while the urge for medical tourism will be on the decline as the new machine is one of the most advanced in the world comparable to what is available in Europe, India and South Africa.
The Minister also got a commitment from Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company to the tune of over $1million for the purchase of another LINAC radiotherapy equipment to be installed in the second bunker at the National Hospital by January 2018. NDDC promised to install same equipment at the University of Uyo and University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospitals while Kano State governor signified his intention to purchase a brand new LINAC radiotherapy equipment.
With this development, health watchers are of the view that the drive of the Buhari administration to overhaul the health system in Nigeria is gaining momentum.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that plans are underway for the government to begin the free screening of 250,000 Nigerians above the age of 50 for breast, cervical and prostate cancers. The screening will be carried out by the Federal Ministry of Health through the Federal Teaching Hospitals and Medical Centres across the country.
Another exercise underway is the purchase of anti-retroviral drugs for 2,000,000 people, 10,000 free cataract surgeries and free treatment of 800 patients with confirmed diagnosis of Hepatitis C infection. Health watchers say all these combined may drastically reduce medical tourism that gulps $1billion plus annually.