RADIOTHERAPY is one of the major modalities of treatment and care for common cancers. On average, radiotherapy is recommended for 52 per cent of cancer patients. Inequality in access to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care continues to make reducing premature deaths from cancer difficult.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, recognises that while at least 55 per cent of all cancers in Africa could respond to radiotherapy, radiotherapy is available to only five per cent of the African population.
The Union for International Cancer Control, UICC, says the biggest gap between radiotherapy machine availability and need in the world today is in Nigeria, a fact that is corroborated by the Society of Oncology and Cancer Research Nigeria, SOCRN. This is really another sad reminder that Nigeria is behind in most developmental indices.
A World Health Organisation, WHO, Cancer Country profile for Nigeria shows that radiotherapy is not considered generally available under the public health system. There are great inequities in access to radiotherapy services at the national and regional levels, coupled with shortage of trained personnel.
An equity gap case study on access to radiotherapy in Nigeria conducted by the IAEA’s Directory of Radiotherapy Centres showed that there are only three functional radiotherapy machines in Nigeria.
This is equivalent to 0.016 radiotherapy machines per one million population compared to 1 to 250,000 population in the developed world. Worse still, a 2016 study of patients at the Radiation Oncology Department at University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan in Oyo State, carried out by the IAEA, had observed that 80 per cent of patients were unable to afford radiotherapy without financial assistance.
Past attempts towards improving availability of equipment for cancer treatment include installation of radiation equipment in eight Federal Teaching Hospitals across the country.
In December 2017, the Federal Government announced a new machine for the Radiotherapy Department at the National Hospital, Abuja while a second machine is to be installed by June 2018 also at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH.
All this is but a drop in the ocean. Cancer in Nigeria has reached epidemic proportions and is increasing at an alarming rate. Quick and decisive action is required to make access to cancer management services more equal across the country if the goal of health for all is to be attained.
Nigeria should key into successful initiatives such as the widely acknowledged Africa Radiation Oncology Network, AFRONET, a pilot telemedicine project supporting professionals in radiotherapy centres within Anglophone Africa.
Nigeria needs to better implement curriculum to ensure quality control in radiotherapy centres. If there is to be progress in reducing premature cancer deaths, urgency is required in addressing the access, infrastructure and human resource gaps in delivering radiotherapy treatment to cancer patients in the country.