• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

NGO intensifies fight against cancer

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Following rising cases of cancer in Nigeria, Leah Charity Foundation, a Kwara State based non-governmental organisation, has intensified its effort at reducing the incidence of breast and cervical cancers in women through a sensitisation visit to 10 local governments areas in the state to speak to the women on the need for early screening as a way of increasing the chances of survival. This is in addition to the establishment of Leah Cancer Centre and three other screening centres in around the Ilorin metropolis.

Whilst praying that no one would come down with the disease, Omolewa Ahmed, wife of the governor of Kwara State, noted that cancer is not necessarily a death sentence when it is discovered early and that this was the reason people must make efforts to embark on breast and cervical screening at least once every year.

She explained that the Leah Cancer Centre was established to provide opportunities for women to check themselves, get information on how to examine themselves and provide counselling and treatment options for women who need these interventions.

Ahmed stated that in the past couple of months, close to 4,000 women have been screened at the centres. 172 of them were discovered to have breast lumps, 309 had abnormal discharge, five had cases of “full blown breast cancer”, while seven of the screened women, had cases of confirmed cervical cancer.

She said further that 10 women are currently undergoing cryotherapy, just as 50 women have been referred to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH) for the removal of lumps in their breasts. Other referral centres bankrolled by the foundation for cancer related cases are Adewole Cottage Hospital and Children Specialist Hospital, Centre- Igboro, both in Ilorin.

Appealing to women to take advantage of the ultra-modern equipment at the GRA, Ilorin based cancer centre for screening of both breast and cervix at a very highly subsidised rate of N200, which was fixed to take care of the disposables used for the screening, Ahmed said efforts were on to improve the capacity of the centre to treat diagnosed cases.

A peep into cancer management in Nigeria shows that there is no comprehensive cancer centre in the country with dearth in adequate treatment facilities for cancer compelling Nigerians to spend over $200 million annually on treatment abroad, often in India which has over 120 cancer centres, mostly established through non-governmental effort, with private sector support.

While thousands of patients usually travel abroad for treatment at the end stage, an average cancer patient, on regular screening, clinical assessment and chemotherapy, over the course of a year, may accumulate N5m to N20m or more in medical bills depending on the type of cancer, the type of treatment and where the treatment is being accessed.

While many patients cannot afford costs like these, they and their families resign to fate for health improvement. The result is that average Nigerian cancer patient is less likely to get regular screening tests, such as pap tests and colonoscopies, which catch the disease in its early, more curable stages. Such an individual is less likely to be in good health generally in the first place and thus unable to fight cancer if it occurs.

Unfortunately, cancer patients with no access to chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery constitute the bulk of those who inevitably die. However, cancer patients who receive chemotherapy, radiotherapy and cosmetic surgery may spend N10 m – N20m on the average.

Investigations suggest that while most cancer drugs are available in Nigeria, the costs are prohibitive, distribution is inefficient, and efficacy is uncertain. Drug prices are so high in the first place due to the cost of researching the drugs.

The average cancer drug costs an estimated N10m to research. Worse still, there is no subsidy for cancer care, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Poor infrastructural development in the healthcare worsens the picture. Overall, cancer drug prices are skyrocketing.

A decade ago, the typical new cancer drug coming on the market cost about N600,000 monthly. But in the last three years, the average cost has been around N1.6m. In 2012, of the 12 drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration for various cancer conditions, 11 were priced above N16m for a year of treatment.

It is hardly surprising that in several countries, cancer is now ranked as the world’s most expensive and deadliest disease. Over the last five years, the economic toll of cancer has cost an estimated $1,000bn – about 1.5 percent of the world’s annual Gross Domestic Product.

Besides been the most expensive disease to treat on the short, it is also the most expensive long-term sickness, according to a report by the American Cancer Society. Cancer costs more in productivity and lost life than AIDS, malaria, the flu and other diseases transmitted from person-to-person, the report noted.

In Nigeria, cancer is not covered by insurance; although some of the higher and comprehensive plans may offer limited coverage, no insurance company is ready to pay out the huge sums for the treatment and disability payments of cancer management every year.

Although the key message remains: “Early detection is your best protection,” while early detection is valuable, detecting and preventing cancer in the first place are two different things. Prevention consists of finding out what causes cancer and minimising those risks. In practice, this is easier said than done.

Alexander Chiejina