Rising cases of cancer and the cost implications of treatment are putting Nigerians on edge since the current minimum wage of N18, 000 may not be able to afford diagnosis, let alone procure the right medical service to manage the ailment. Cancer is increasingly becoming a scourge in the country lately, as both the low and high have fallen victim to the ailment.
BusinessDay investigations show that an individual is likely to spend about N67, 000 for breast scan, Mammogram, Biopsy and other tests. An average surgery costs between N80, 000 and N150, 000, while chemotherapy cost ranges between N100, 000 and N500, 000. Targeted therapy in the country cost as much as over N4 million, putting more financial pains on cancer patients and their caregivers.
Experts have predicted that by 2020, the number of cancer patients in Nigeria will rise from 24 million to 42 million, in line with speculations 21 years ago. It is also feared that by same 2020, death rates from cancer in Nigerian males and females may reach 72.7/100,000 and 76/100,000, respectively.
In an interview with BusinessDay, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, founder/president, Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN), said whereas the deaths of prominent Nigerians make news headlines, countless unknown Nigerian women were dying needlessly due to this disease that the advances in medical research was proving survivable even curable.
Anyanwu-Akeredolu pointed that late presentation of cancer in hospitals was due to ignorance, situation the association was trying to change through awareness and enlightenment.
“It must be emphasised that planning integrated, evidence-based and cost effective interventions throughout the cancer continuum (from research to prevention, early detection, treatment, palliative care) is the most effective way to tackle the cancer problem and reduce the suffering caused to patients and their families. Until government at all levels deploy resources to raise awareness and create access to affordable treatment and care, Nigerian women will continue to die untimely due to breast cancer,” she said.
Remi Ajekigbe, consultant radio-therapist and oncologist, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, (LUTH), Idi-Araba, revealed that not less than 15 new cases were seen on a daily basis, out of which nine were breast cancer, with breast cancer still the leading cancer in the country.
According to Ajekigbe, Nigeria’s mortality and morbidity statistics for cancer are high due to late presentation syndrome involving 83-87 percent of cancer patients, running up bills of N150,000 to N350,000 every three weeks, as long as the patient survives.
He however explained that some items we use, from food to items that make them sweeter, were chemicals and they were all carcinogenic.
“When they advertise them they say it tastes better, all of them are addictive. They are all junks. Even the rich may not survive cancer. It is nice to have money to treat cancer. Poor people will not survive as much as the rich, and this is why we are telling the government that health insurance should include cancer because the treatment is very expensive. The drugs, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy are all very expensive.
“Everything about cancer is very expensive. Government should be involved in treatment and should invest more. The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) should cover cancer, even if it is only 25 percent of the cause of cancer treatment,” Ajekigbe said.
The rising cancer cases is being fuelled by a combination of risk factors such as exposure to increased environmental factors like carbon-monoxide from automobiles and generating sets, tobacco use, and changing lifestyle, including unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity and harmful alcohol usage.
The socio-economic toll of cancer has a huge public health concern, dominating healthcare expenditures in developed and developing countries, including Nigeria.
While the Federal Government in 2008 established a 5-Year Nigeria Cancer Control Plan (2008-2013) on advocacy, awareness creation, cancer prevention, early detection through regular screening and cancer management, Nigerians are yet to reap the benefits of this plan.
A cursory look at cancer management in the country shows that Nigeria is ill equipped to deal with the complexities of cancer care with dearth in healthcare infrastructure, with inadequate clinical services. Only a few health centres have functioning radiotherapy equipment, and the cost of care remains out of reach for most Nigerians who have received a cancer diagnosis.
Data collected from 11 cancer registries located in various tertiary hospitals showed 7,000 new documented cases, which corresponds with an estimated 100,000 new cases reported in Nigeria annually. From the data, 60 percent occur in women and 39.8 percent in men.
Some of the cancer registries include University College Hospital, Ibadan, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Jos University Teaching Hospital, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, Obafemi Awolowo Teaching Hospital Complex, Ile-Ife, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Ilorin, University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Aminu Kano University Teaching Hospital, Kano and Nnamdi Azikwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi.
Public health experts believe the greatest reduction in cancer should come from a complete government approach to adopting population-wide interventions that address risk factors, sustained primary health-care measures, prioritised packages of essential interventions, palliative and long-term care, should be implemented for those who already have cancer.