July 9, 2021

CSO expresses concern over 90 oncologists to 100,000 cancer patients

Akin Fadeyi Foundation kicks off ‘What Women Can Do’ competition

…calls for state of emergency on health workforce shortage

By Gabriel Ewepu and Fortune Eromosele

A cancer advocacy group, Project PINK BLUE- Health and Psychological Trust Center, Wednesday, decried the shortage of doctors who treat cancer in the country as 90 oncologists to 100,000 cancer patients.

The Executive Director, Project Pink Blue, Runcie Chidebe, made this known at a press briefing on the need to declare a state of emergency on health workforce shortage in Nigeria and the launch of upgrade oncology, in Abuja.

According to Chidebe, in Nigeria, the density of physicians to a patient is four doctors per 10,000 patients and 16.1 nurses and midwives per 10,000 patients, which he said is less than the World Health Organization, WHO, recommendations of one doctor to 600 patients and the critical threshold of 23 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 patients.

He said: “It is estimated that Nigeria will approximately need 149,852 doctors and 471,353 nurses by 2030, only 99,120 doctors and 333,494 nurses will be available based on the growth rate. With the above data, by 2030, Nigeria will have a shortage of 50,120 doctors and 137,859 nurses, translating to 33.45 per cent and 29.25 per cent gap in doctors’ and nurses’ supply.

“For a population of 201 million, Nigeria has less than 90 clinical oncologists (that is, cancer doctors) who provide cancer treatment to over 100,000 cancer patients across the cancer centres. In our calculation, it means that there is only one cancer doctor to over 1,100 cancer patients in Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, he lamented mass migration of health care workers to foreign countries in recent years, saying that it has only worsened the inequitable distribution of health care workers in the country.

 “As at today, nine in 10 Nigerian physicians are seeking opportunities abroad. This migration of Nigerian healthcare worker abroad impacts on Nigeria in diverse ways, for instance, the mortality cost of Nigerian physician migration to abroad totals to $3.1billion annually.

“Nigerian government loses at least N3.8million ($9,235) for subsidizing the training of its physicians who eventually leave the country to high income countries (HICs)/abroad. These HICs save billions of dollars for pulling physicians that they did not train to their countries.

“In Nigeria, there are 74,543 registered physicians, however, only an estimated 40,000 are practicing in the country for a population of 201 million.”

He however, launched the Upgrade Oncology to support the Federal Government’s efforts in cancer control and also urged the federal government to declare a state of emergency on the shortage of healthcare workforce in Nigeria.

On his own part, President Nigeria Cancer Society, Dr. Adamu Umar, explained that cancer accounts for the second most common cause of mortality after cardiovascular disease worldwide with about 18.1 million new cancer cases and 9.6 million cancer- deaths in 2018.

“The World Health Organisation posits that in 2020 alone, Nigeria contributed to the world cancer burden with 124, 815 new cases and 78, 899 deaths and these numbers are expected to be on the rise. Based on population aging alone, cancer incidence in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to increase by 85 per cent in the next 15 years.

“The depreciating state of our health facilities, late presentation, limited access to quality care, unequal and/or outright poor distribution of oncologists, high cost of cancer therapies, limited access to funds for treatment and limited training for oncology professionals are some of the biggest reasons we still have poor cancer outcomes in Nigeria”, he said.

Speaking also, Breast Cancer Survivor and Programme Coordinator, Project PINK BLUE, Gloria Okwu, said, “To support the Nigerian government’s National Cancer Control Plan 2018-2022, Project PINK BLUE with support from the U.S. Mission in Nigeria in 2018 initiated Upgrade Oncology, a U. S. – Nigeria Science & Technology Exchange Program.

“The goal is to strengthen the capacity of the Nigerian healthcare workers and oncology professionals through training in diverse oncology areas, in partnership with Fulbright Specialist Program and Federal Ministry of Health.

“Through Upgrade Oncology, we brought two U. S. based medical oncologists (that is cancer experts) to Nigeria to train forty-four (44) Nigerian clinical oncologists with updated knowledge on medical oncology, with focus on breast, prostate, leukemia, childhood, colorectal cancers and pregnancy in cancer patients. We had doctors from 11 university teaching hospital and some private facilities in Nigeria.

“This year, Project PINK BLUE with the support from Aspire Coronation Trust Foundation is launching the 2021 Upgrade Oncology which primarily focus on the training of oncology pharmacists, cancer doctors and cancer nurses.

“We are seeking the support of the U.S. Mission Nigeria, and Oncology Pharmacy Practitioners Association of Nigeria (OPPAN) to bring two U.S. board certified oncology-pharmacists from the United States to Nigeria to provide the training.”

In the same vein, Chief Executive Officer, Aspire Coronation Trust Foundation, Osayi Alile, said “Our support for the Upgrade Oncology Programme this year could not be more crucial, as the initiative’s efforts to train cancer care professionals shall not only strengthen Nigeria’s capacity to provide quality cancer care but also support government’s efforts towards achieving the National Cancer Control Plan by 2022.

“Cancer should not be a death sentence therefore we shall remain committed to efforts that address all layers- whether it be prevention, care, or treatment – that contribute to the reduction of cancer mortalities in the nation.”