By Chioma Obinna
To mark this year’s World Childhood Cancer Month, experts have called on the Federal Government to provide the political will to reduce deaths among children with cancer by subsidizing their treatments.
Making the call in Lagos, the experts who spoke during the Annual Walkathon of Children Living With Cancer Foundation, CLWCF, said there was also the need to provide health insurance for the children.
Speaking to journalists, the Founder of CLWCF, Dr Nneka Nwaobbi said developed countries have achieved 80 to 90 per cent cure rates due to support from the government and partners.
Nwaobbi who identified lack of funds and ignorance about childhood cancers as major challenges in the last 20 years of her championing the course of children living with cancer in Nigeria said the cure rate in Nigeria was still low.
“The hospital bills are still very high. The government should subsidise the cost of treatment or remove it entirely and that will go a long way to help these children and their families as well as reduce the deaths. Again, there is a need for the government should stop job loss among parents of these children. Many of them lose their jobs when they go back to their work after their child’s treatment.”
Nwaobbi who explained that regretted that many Nigerians are still ignorant that children also suffer from cancer said the walk which began from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, to the National Stadium and back to LUTH was organised to create awareness on the disease.
“The month is a global collaborative campaign to raise awareness about childhood cancer and to express support for children and adolescents with cancer, the survivors and their families with the theme: “Better Survival’ is achievable Through Your Hands. We started 20 years ago and people have supported us to achieve a cure for our children in Nigeria.”
Also speaking to journalists, a Consultant Haematology Paediatrics Oncologist, at LUTH, Dr Ugonna Fakile who confirmed that childhood cancer was huge in Nigeria said in LUTH, they see an average of 10 to 12 new cases in a month and manage 30 to 40 cancer patients monthly.
Fakile who said that the survival rate was improving at LUTH lamented that most of the children die of a lack of funds for treatment.
According to her, some cancer cases that require unbroken three years of treatment cost between N7 to N10 million for treatment.
She said to meet up the treatment cost; there was a need to provide health insurance because if there is health insurance treatment will be accessible.
“Most of our patients pay out of pocket and it is very daunting and it drains the family financially and emotionally and physically. Having the government intervene with payment programmes to help parents will go a long way.
“We are changing the narrative at LUTH. We are doing a lot better as our leukaemia patients are surviving better even kidney cancers, we are doing up to 80 to 90 per cent survival rate. Initially, we have 100 per cent mortality but now we can boast of 60 to almost 70 per cent survival rate.”
Acknowledging the need for more awareness of the fact that children can still have cancer, Fakile advised parents that not every fever is malaria or typhoid, hence, the need for parents to take their children to a doctor when they are experiencing unexplainable conditions.
She listed some of the symptoms to look out for include; fever that is not abating, recurrent transfusion, bruises on the skin that refused to clot; and for solid tumours, a hard mass or swelling in any part of the body. Sometimes, it can be jaundice.
She identified finance, manpower, few oncologists and lack of equipment to work with as major challenges. “We also have things like basic equipment like lab tests, there is some test we will like to do like immunohistochemistry that is not done in Nigeria and those things are done in abroad. If we can have things like that, things will be better. We need to know that cancer is real and that it is happening in Nigeria and that early detection is the best form of treatment and cure. Once you are diagnosed early and institute treatment there is the likelihood that the outcome will be positive,” she added.