By Gabriel Olawale
Worried by the high incidence of cancer cases in Nigeria, experts in the field of cancer management have expressed disappointment over the country’s inability to eradicate certain cancers.
Speaking during a 3-day capacity building on multidisciplinary cancer management organised by the Society of Oncology and Cancer Research of Nigeria, SOCRON, in partnership with American Society of Clinical Oncology, ASCO, the Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine, Prof. Clement Adebamowo said that there is enough scientific knowledge on how to reduce death from many types of cancers, regrettably such knowledge is not being applied in Nigeria.
“Why is it that some of the latest discoveries are not been applied here in Nigeria? For instance, we know how to eradicate cervical cancer, but in Nigeria, we are not practicing it. Why? What are the barriers and how can we overcome them?”
Adebamowo who is currently President of SOCRON, pointed out that the majority of people still believe that cancer diagnosis is the end of life.
“We need to let our people know that cancer occurs in Nigeria just like other parts of the world and it does not mean the end of life. With appropriate care, someone can live a better life. Early presentation is important, many of these cancers don’t make you have a fever, to vomit or experience body pain but they are deadly.
Adebamowo advocated more funding to the health sector and cancer care in particular.
“Cancer is different from infectious diseases most of the hospitals are equipped to treat. So the executive and legislature need to work together and improve health funding.
Corroborating his view, Professor of Surgery and Director, Breast Health Global Initiative, Benjamin Anderson, urged the Nigeria government to raise the level of awareness about cancer and early detection. The clinicians also need to be educated so that they recognise what needs to be done after diagnosis.
“Part of what we observed in some of the countries we are privileged to work with was that the majority of health workers at the primary care level don’t know what breast cancer really looks like. So they send the patient away rather than doing the diagnosis.
“Sometimes the surgeon makes a mistake by throwing away the tumour they cut out. They forget that when they cut it out, they only remove the problem in which when it comes to treatment the first thing will be to analyse the tumour and figure out the type.”
Anderson emphasised the need for Nigeria to have accurate data on cancer, saying “without data, it is difficult to know what the next intervention should be. Data is like a map to start a journey, and one may wonder why the Ministry of Health is not making that to happen.”
On his part, the President, West African College of Surgeons and Professor of General Surgery, Breast and Endocrine, Professor King-David Yawe, said reasons responsible for delay in a presentation at the health facilities include, financial challenges, stigmatisation, shortage of personnel and health facilities among others.
“Nigeria is running cash and carry healthcare system. You don’t go to the hospital without having cash. Location is also a major challenge.”
Yawe said that to address some of these issues, Nigeria needs to have a robust health insurance policy that covers everybody, “at the moment health insurance only covers 5 percent of the population and mostly civil servant. We need to implement a community-based health insurance system if we want to cover the bulk of the population.
“To confirm the diagnoses of cancer, you need to get a tissue which takes a long time. Also, you need to be on the list to go enter theater because it is not melted for Oncologist alone. If we can have more special cancer clinic hospital that will also speed the process.
“Another major challenge is family rejection. Most times, society rejects the person with cancer who loses everything, so they tend to stay at home. Sometimes our Teaching Hospitals are shut down for months, but cancer doesn’t shut down. It keeps progressing.”