• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Winning the big war against cancer

Nigeria’s late-stage cancer crisis could worsen by 2030

Cancer is a global epidemic. The worldwide burden of the disease doubled between 1975 and 2000, and in 2010, cancer became the number one killer disease of mankind. It is set to double again by 2020 and nearly triple by 2030, according to reports. By 2030, it is projected that one in every two persons will be diagnosed of cancer in their lifetime. In contrast, deaths from infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS will decline by 7 million yearly.

It is against the backdrop of this global prevalence that the United Nations/World Health Organisation (WHO) set aside February 4 every year as World Cancer Day, with the main objective to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment. The day is the one singular initiative under which the entire world can unite in the fight against the global cancer epidemic. This year’s theme, ‘Not Beyond Us’, takes a positive and proactive approach to the fight against cancer, highlighting that solutions do exist and that they are within our reach.

Perhaps nowhere is this more urgent than in Nigeria, where over 100,000 people are diagnosed with cancer annually, and about 80,000 die from the disease – amounting to 240 Nigerians every day or 10 Nigerians every hour dying from cancer – according to the WHO. The Nigerian cancer death ratio of 4 in 5 is one of the worst in the whole world.

Furthermore, a recent WHO report notes that cervical cancer, which is virtually 100 percent preventable, kills one Nigerian woman every hour. Breast cancer now kills 40 Nigerians daily, up from 30 daily in 2008. Prostate cancer kills 26 Nigerian men daily, up from 14 daily in 2008. These three common cancers alone kill 90 Nigerians daily.

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The alarming death rate from cancer in Nigeria is mainly traceable to poor infrastructure to deal with the problem. Nigeria has no mobile cancer centre (MCC) – described as a clinic on wheels in which screening, follow-up and treatment (including surgeries) can take place – thereby denying most Nigerians access to basic cancer screening. Likewise, the country has no single comprehensive cancer centre (CCC), which means that most citizens lack access to optimal cancer treatment. Radiotherapy, which is one of the essential equipment needed to manage cases of cancer, is unavailable in most tertiary hospitals in Nigeria. At present, only four public hospitals and one private hospital are said to have such facilities in the country, and some of these are said to be non-functional at the moment.

Consequently, Nigerians spend $200 million annually on cancer-related medical tourism, sometimes with poor outcomes because of late detection. Incidentally, $200 million is the approximate amount needed to establish three CCCs (at an estimated cost of $63 million per unit) or to acquire 300 MCCs (at the cost of about $600,000 per unit).

But this trend can be reversed. Medical experts say with the current level of medical knowledge, most cancer-related deaths can be prevented. According to the WHO, one-third of all cancers can be prevented; another one-third can be effectively cured with early diagnosis; whilst palliative care can improve the quality of life of the last third.

To do this, however, there is need for greater awareness among the populace. In this regard, we commend the efforts of non-governmental organisations that have been in the forefront of cancer awareness campaign over the years. For instance, Mass Medical Mission, a non-governmental initiative, pioneered community-based mass cervical cancer screening campaign in Nigeria, known as the National Cervical Cancer Prevention Programme (NCCPP), which was later renamed the National Cancer Prevention Programme (NCPP) following the incorporation of screening for other cancers. Since its establishment in 2007, it is said to have directly screened and treated over 100,000 Nigerians, and through its awareness campaign has helped to protect millions of Nigerians from cancer.

Equally commendable is the effort of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP-Nigeria), a private sector-led tripartite (private, social and public sectors) collaboration aimed at mobilising Nigerians to unite in tackling major national problems. CECP has a short-term goal to acquire and deploy 37 mobile cancer centres, one for each state and FCT Abuja, which will take cancer prevention and early treatment to the grassroots, and a longer-term goal to spearhead the establishment of one comprehensive cancer centre in each of Nigeria’s geopolitical zones.

But more can be done. There is a need for more NGOs, private sector operators, wealthy individuals and governments at all levels to join in taking the awareness campaign to many more Nigerians in far-flung parts of the country. Governments especially must be alive to their responsibilities by providing the necessary infrastructure for early cancer detection and possible treatment.

Indeed, cancer demands full-scale war! In the wake of the Ebola outbreak in the country last year, Nigerians rallied and the result is that today Nigeria is certified Ebola-free. Much the same success is being recorded in the fight against polio. The same can be replicated with cancer, if only all individuals and organisations enlist as soldiers in the big war against cancer, by giving their time, talent and treasure to the cause. Winning the war against cancer is truly ‘not beyond us’.