Addressing the Scourge of Cancer in Nigeria

By Shamsiyya Haruna

 

Cancer patients in Nigeria especially the poor are labelled dead on arrival in public hospitals. Graveyard seems to be their final abode from the hospital, except the rich who can survive the cancer through adequate treatments of the disease after early detection.

 

The rich survive because they have the resources to travel for foreign medical treatment in well-equipped hospitals in developed countries.

 

According to world health organization cancer is defined as a group of diseases that involve abnormal cellular growth which is capable of metastasis. However not all cancers possess the ability to metastasize to other locations in the body via lymph or blood. Cancers could be in various types such as cervical, ovarian, breast, lung, cancer of the blood, and prostate cancers and many others.

 

It is very sad that quite a good number of Nigerians out there are suffering from clinical features of the disease or another and have no idea that it is the disease that is gradually destroying their lives.

The incidence and damaging effect of cancer in our country Nigeria cannot be overestimated. It is overwhelming and rapidly increasing in numbers and the mortality rate not left out.

 

The major impediments in addressing the scourge of cancer in Nigeria include poorly equipped hospitals, lack of knowledge on the part of the people, lack of trained oncology and human resource, lack of drugs, high cost of treatment, limited screening centres, government’s poor attitude in policy formulation and implementation.

 

Records have shown that cancer of all types are rampant in Nigeria with daily cancer-related death in hospitals.  In fact, hundreds and thousands are dying silently and not much appears to have been done to stem the tide of losing cancer patients.

 

Since 2009 when the first international cancer centre was built in Abuja which is currently non-functional, nothing else has been done in Africa to challenge the devastating effect of cancer in the continent.  No screening centre in the whole country, except the limited and privately owned diagnostic centres that cannot be patronize by poor patients because of the exorbitant charges.

 

In most developed economies, control, treatment and research on cancer has tremendously improved through scientific discovery and other feats. While the rich Nigerians travel to India, Egypt and even Sudan for cancer treatment, the country has not done enough to fight cancer as evident by lack of adoption of a national strategy that focuses on research, improved awareness and provision of treatment centres.

 

Lack of diagnostic facilities is one of the major challenges of cancer treatment in Nigeria. Mammography and other radiological and non-radiological examination are very essential diagnostic technique for cancer. Availability of well-trained oncology and non-oncology staff are part of cancer preparedness plan of any country that has interest in cancer care.

 

It was reported that in developing countries cancer diagnostic and therapeutic facilities, trained manpower among others are still inadequate to meet the needs of the populations. Whereas there are about four radiotherapy machines per million population in UK and 8.0 machines per million population in USA respectively, Nigeria has one mega voltage radiotherapy machine per 60 million population.

 

In Nigeria for instance there are no cancer drugs or the little available are reserved for the political class and their relatives. Where the cancer drugs are seen, the prices of these and other therapies put them beyond the reach of public health systems in the country. Cancer drugs on the WHO list of essential drugs, which are low cost but effective cancer drugs, should be made available in developing countries based on public health priorities.

 

Federal government should place high priority on cancer and a lot more percentage of her annual health budget to cancer care, screening, prevention, and treatment, screening and treatment centres, Public awareness about cancer should be given attention just as it was done in the earlier days of HIV/AIDS. This would help correct health seeking behaviour of the citizenry which contributed to failure in treatment of cancers.

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