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How misdiagnosis kills 70 percent of Nigeria’s cancer patients – Expert

•‘There is hope for survivors’

By Chioma Obinna

Every year, precisely on February 4, the world celebrates World Cancer to raise collective voice on the deadly ailment’s prevention, detection and treatment. In Nigeria, the story is not different as a cancer care organisation, Care Organisation Public Enlightenment, COPE, in collaboration with Polaris Bank, donated breast prostheses and prosthetic bras worth over N2 million to breast cancer survivors. Sunday Vanguard, at the occasion, spoke to the Executive Director of COPE, Mrs Ebun Anozie, on cancer diagnosis, treatment cost and surviving. To her, although her joy knew no bounds as members of the support group filed out to receive the products, she was worried that 70 percent of cancer patients are misdiagnosed in Nigeria while the ill-equipped and inefficient health facilities continue to hamper treatment of patients.

Excerpts:

*Ebun Anozie

Cancer in Nigeria

All over the world, cancer organisations are always excited about celebrating World Cancer Day. The 2019 theme is ‘I am and I will’. This theme is going to run for the next three years. Quite interesting, it gives one a leeway to express oneself and how you feel as a cancer survivor and as a cancer advocate. You could say “I am a survivor and I will beat cancer”.

In terms of cancer diagnosis in Nigeria, we still have a long way to go as 70 percent of cancer patients are misdiagnosed. My late father, for example, was misdiagnosed and badly treated in his cancer journey. Sadly, I have witnessed numerous cases. We have many cases of a false positive and false negative. This leaves much to be desired.

In terms of treatment, cost and survivorship, early detection of cancer is very vital as it is cheaper to treat and manage which saves cost and life. That is the essence of our campaign of over 23 years plus. We service our cars regularly to avoid major damage which is cost effective, so why can’t we avail ourselves of regular medical checks.

Unfortunately, we take our health issues for granted in Nigeria and use the term “na something go kill a man”. Being penny wise and pound foolish regarding any health issue is deadly.

At COPE, we offer a highly subsidised monthly {every 3rd Saturday of the month} clinical breast examination combined with breast ultrasound scan screening to women of all ages which many organisations have keyed into through our Wall of Fame and their members of staff and clients benefit.

 

With the numerous challenges facing cancer patients and survivors, do you say there is hope?

In our own environment, which is a peculiar one, it is a tough order. You present early and your treatment is delayed due to ill-equipped and inefficient health facilities, and cancer progresses. Stage one turns to stage three within a few months of initial diagnosis. Let me reiterate that cancer is not a death sentence. With a holistic approach, one can beat it. Despite all the challenges, we are grateful that there are still a handful of survivors that should be encouraged and catered for in no small measure bearing in mind our harsh health environment.

It takes the grace of God for one to survive cancer in Nigeria due to the abysmal treatment received and the exorbitant cancer medications and treatments.

 

We have drugs that cost as high as half a million Naira and you are required to go through 13 courses. Where is one going to get the money from in a country where the Health Insurance Scheme does not cover cancer treatments? 

Can one confidently say there is hope?

I honestly must commend and congratulate the government on the recently commissioned NSIA-LUTH World Class Cancer Centre in Sub Sahara Africa by President Muhammadu Buhari. This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and capable of reducing the cancer burden in Nigeria after years of soliciting for a Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

Be that as it may, our political leaders travel outside the country for health-related issues, and my assumption is that the facilities they are exposed to should be replicated in Nigeria to avoid brain drain of our medical practitioners.

With the blessings God has bestowed on us in Nigeria, nothing stops the government from having a Comprehensive Cancer Centre in all the 36 states. I also assume that our exposure to hospitals abroad will endear our leaders to replicate what they experience back home in order to know what a Comprehensive Cancer Centre really is.

It is heartbreaking that we have brilliant doctors but no adequate tools to work with. What a shame! We need to provide the necessary health tools for the primary health centres to avoid unnecessary congestion in secondary and tertiary health institutions.

The people should, therefore, make government accountable.

Furthermore, our prayer is to imbibe and inculcate a sound maintenance culture in order not to run down the NSIA-LUTH project. It will give Nigerians great joy to have cancer treatments subsidized if presented early.

 

As an organisation, what have been your challenges, your strength and fears?

As a group, our challenges have always been to have adequate resources to sustain the organization in order to effectively run an effective breast cancer screening centre and a vibrant support group system for breast cancer survivors. My strengths have always been my in-depth passion as an entrepreneur and as an Ashoka Fellow. Also, the support and partnerships with individuals and corporate organizations with a heart of gold have assisted us in steering the organization. My fears are attending to terminal cases, tending, loving and losing a survivor.

Today, Polaris Bank has fulfilled its promise by donating breast prostheses and prosthetic bras worth two million, two hundred and fifty thousand Naira to our breast cancer survivors.

We deferred our World Cancer Day to coincide with the International Women’s Day with similar themes, ‘I am and I will’/ ‘Balanceforbetter to celebrate our women by giving out these items which will improve their quality of life and restore their self-esteem.

As you rightly know, COPE was established in 1995 and, in 2013, we fully birthed the breast cancer survivor group {support group}. This we found necessary in order to enhance the quality of life among breast cancer survivors and promote their physical, psychological and social recovery. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to exchange experiences and share reliable information about new drugs and trials.

In addition, we create an opportunity for them to talk to professionals: Cancer counsellors, oncologists, dieticians, wellness instructors, legal practitioners and many more about their worries and fears.

When resources are available, we support them financially for their medical treatments and also train them to be financially independent through skill acquisition programmes. Also, donated wigs are given to make up for hair loss {Alopecia} during and after chemotherapy and many other gift items.

Some of our partners sponsor our yearly complementary therapies which allow survivors to go to the spa for steam bath, massage, manicure, pedicure, yoga, aromatherapy, musical therapy and many more while we are working towards expanding our scope in order to reach out to more women and reduce cancer mortality rate by acquiring a bigger space.

 

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