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Make leukaemia treatment affordable, accessible — Timilehin urges govt

By Chioma Obinna

Are you aware that out of  about 20 patients diagnosed for cancer in Nigeria, 15 will be  leukaemia? Do you also know that no less than five new cases of leukaemia are diagnosed every month at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH?  These and other facts were disclosed during a special Valentine’s Day event for patients with leukaemia and a free blood donation exercise held in Lagos at the instance of the Timilehin Leukaemia Foundation, with the theme: “Ignorance is not an excuse, not all temperature is Malaria”

An Oncology Nurse at LUTH, Oluwatoyin Awosemo, who disclosed this, told Good Health Weekly that Leukemia is a form of cancer that affects the blood in individual and very common with people between the ages of zero years to 14 years.

“Leukemia is common among Nigerian children. When you admit about 20 patients, 15 will be leukaemia while the other five are suffering from other types of cancer, like kidney cancer.”

Awosemo who noted that Leukaemia can present in form of bleeding from the nose or ear, blood in the urine or faeces, fever or malaria said it can be confirmed through bone marrow aspiration. She  identified denial and finance as major challenges affecting the treatment of the malady in Nigeria.

“In this environment, people will always say ‘ it is not my portion, God forbid,’ they won’t come to the hospital when they’re supposed to, some will go and pray, they’ll go to the mountain; it is our factor we can’t really blame them that’s why we’re creating this awareness.

“Finance, as I said is very expensive. There’s a type in chemotherapy that cost about N200,000, chemotherapy drugs are very expensive.  When they don’t have money, what do they do? And when there’s a break in treatment, there could be a relapse.

“Some of the samples we send to South Africa cost almost N300,000 just to confirm. The sample of the bone marrow is taken to be examined under practitioners.” Also speaking, the Founder of Timilehin Leukaemia Foundation, Mrs Janet Modupe Oyedele  urged  the Federal Government to find a lasting solution to leukaemia. Oyedele, who tasked political office holders including candidates  vying for various positions to help subsidise leukaemia treatment in Nigeria by providing free blood, drugs and other consumables needed for treatment.

“As we speak, a child is dying of leukaemia because there is no blood, no money for chemotherapy and this is why  government should come into the health sector and make things better. If the future of Nigeria is our children and they are being taken by this disease and nothing is being done, who will be alive to vote in future? Our children are dying,” she stated.

Lamenting the high cost of leukaemia treatment and the burden on patients and families, she said: “A woman lost her child because she could not afford N500, 000 needed for just one drug. Many people are dying.   Our minimum wage was formerly N18, 000 but now N30,000 but will that do anything for us?  The government should give us take home money to be able to cater for ourselves and pay our rent and other needs.

Oyedele who lost her only child to leukaemia said: “We need good hospital facilities in the place where people will be tested early even if we don’t have a bone marrow transplant.

“You can imagine how many people that are dying in the villages who don’t have the opportunity to even be tested or treated.

Speaking, the Guest of Honour who is also Governorship Candidate of Labour Party in Kwara State, Comrade Issa Aremu who commended the Foundation said the foundation’s ideology was in line with one of his Five Ps agenda to eradicate poverty and provide comprehensive healthcare for the people.

Noting that 60 per cent of Ghanaians were covered under health insurance, Aremu said activities of the foundation would dispel myths and misconception associated with the disease.

He said leukaemia patients require  sympathy, and love and care of Nigerians.

He added that giving the level of ignorance of the people about leukaemia, patients are stigmatised.

“These people need blood, we have to create awareness and provide those things they need. I intend to collaborate with the foundation and plan a fund or a bank account dedicated for the treatment of leukaemia.  He advised politicians not to see the election as do or die affair but see services to the people when elected as do or die. “All that Nigeria need is a good government with a good policy that will start with health do get it right,” he added.

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