Last week Sunday February 4, 2918 was marked as World Cancer Day, WCD. It is an international day observed annually by UN member countries to raise awareness among millions of people world-wide particularly those facing unequal access to diagnosis, treatment and care of cancer. The “we can, I can” campaign of the WCD designed to cover 2016-2018 ends this year.
In Nigeria, activities organized to mark the Day included awareness road walk, public lectures and symposia. In Abuja, an awareness walk was organized by Project Pink Blue, a non-governmental organization in collaboration with the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL). Among those who took part in the awareness road walk were wife of the Governor of Kebbi State and founder of Medicaid Cancer Foundation Dr. Zainab Shinkafi Bagudu as well as some cancer survivors including veteran broadcaster and popular TV star Sadiq Daba.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized cancer as the leading cause of global morbidity. The disease attacks many body organs including breast, lungs, prostate, cancer, blood etc. According to WHO statistics, an estimated 8.8 million deaths occur from cancer every year. 70 percent of them occur in developing countries. With cancer accounting for 13 percent of all deaths registered globally, African countries including Nigeria have cause to worry. It is disturbing that only 17 percent of African countries have sufficiently funded cancer control programmes.
Dr. Andreas Ulrich of WHO’s Department of Chronic Diseases said up to a third of all cancer deaths are linked to “modifiable risks” like tobacco, obesity and harmful use of alcohol. These are risk factors associated with individual lifestyles. To corroborate experts’ assertion that cancer shouldn’t be “a death sentence anywhere in the world”, Dr. Ulrich said many forms of cancer, if detected early, can be cured. The hope of non-cancer patients is also raised with the availability of vaccines that can prevent some infections linked to cancer including Hepatitis B, which causes liver cancer.
In Nigeria, some people still believe that cancer is a disease of the wealthy, the elderly and of people in developed countries. On the contrary, cancer is a global epidemic that does not discriminate against nationality, age or gender. While breast and cervical cancer are commonest among women, prostate cancer is more prevalent among men. Statistics indicate that within four years, mortality rate from common forms of cancer in Nigeria increased rapidly. For example, breast cancer reportedly killed 30 Nigerian women daily in 2008. This figure increased to 40 women daily in 2012. In 2008, prostate cancer killed 14 Nigerian men daily; which rose to 26 men daily in 2012.
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are the two available forms of treatment for cancer. Linear Accelerator machine commonly known as LINAC is used in radiotherapy for cancer treatment. WHO recommends 300 cancer treatment machines for Nigeria’s 170 million people. Unfortunately, only 9 oncology service centers equipped with LINAC machines are available in this country. Dr. Zainab Bagudu said of the 9 oncology centers, only Usmanu Dan Fodio University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto’s machine functions most of the time.
The situation is further worsened by inadequate number of trained oncologists in the country. The breakdown of most machines soon after their acquisition cannot be isolated from the fact that tertiary health institutions housing the machines failed to train biomedical engineers and other medical professionals needed to operate and maintain the machines. Government must therefore plan to train the necessary manpower for cancer treatment in the country.
While we urge government to embark on mass awareness campaigns on cancer, it should as a matter urgency repair all broken down facilities at various cancer treatment centers.We encourage government to collaborate with the private sector to increase the number of cancer treatment centers in Nigeria and to also subsidize cost of treatment. Government is thus implored to expand the services of the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, to cover cancer treatment. For now, cancer treatment in Nigeria drains patients’ resources and yet kills most of them.