The enormity of the cancer scourge was brought to the fore during the commemoration of this year’s World Cancer Day. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more new cases of cancer and cancer-related deaths were recorded in the country in 2018. At an event to mark the occasion on February 4, the WHO Nigeria Health Emergency Team head, Dr. Clement Peter, disclosed that 41, 000 people died of cancer last year in Nigeria, just as 116,000 new cases of cancer were recorded.
Globally, cancer is one of the leading causes of death. Each year, new cases and deaths from the disease keep rising. Available statistics from WHO revealed that in 2012, there were 14 million new cases and 8.2 million deaths, while in 2018 the new cases rose to 18.1 million and 9.6 million people died of cancer.
The world health body says that unless something drastic is done to contain the disease, the cancer burden in Africa might double from 1,055,172 new cancer cases in 2018 to 2,123,245 by 2040. It points out that by 2020, cancer among Nigerian males may be in the ratio of 91/100, 000 while the ratio among the females could be 101/ 100, 000. The agency estimates that by next year, death rates from cancer for Nigerian males and females may reach 73/100,000 and 76/100,000, respectively.
Medical experts are of the view that cancer cases would rise in Africa mainly because of continued exposure to cancer-risk factors. These include tobacco and alcohol use, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy habits and environmental pollution, among others.
However, other factors may have also contributed to rising cancer cases in the country. According to WHO, high poverty rate, late and poor cancer diagnosis and lack of medical cover are among factors posing a serious challenge to cancer patients in most African countries, including Nigeria.
No doubt, most cancer patients in Nigeria and across Africa are not diagnosed early, when a positive outcome is likely. Peter stated that only 26 per cent of low-income countries in the world reported having public sector pathology services and only 30 per cent of these countries had cancer treatment services. Yet, as much as 90 per cent of high-income countries can offer such services.
In Nigeria, a diagnosis of cancer is as good as a death sentence. Cancer treatment is painful, slow, extremely expensive and unreliable. Nigeria has less than one radiotherapy machine per one million people compared to one machine to 250,000 people in the developed world. Indeed, an equity gap case study on access to radiotherapy in Nigeria conducted by the Directory of Radiotherapy Centres of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed that there are only three functional radiotherapy machines in the country.
The high cost of treatment is another major factor hindering the containment of the scourge. Depending on the type of cancer, a woman may need between N2.1 million and N29.2 million for the treatment of breast cancer.
In April last year, the Federal Government launched the National Cancer Control Plan (2018-2022), a five-year plan that defined strategies and roadmap for cancer control. The plan stipulates that the country requires N93 billion ($380 million) to reduce the burden of cancer for the next five years. But in the 2018 budget, only N180,980,579 ($593,379) was allocated for cancer control programme.
We decry the rising cases of cancer and call on the government to wage a relentless war against the disease. There is an urgent need for the government to treat the cancer scourge as a health emergency. We enjoin Nigerians to go for regular medical checks and embrace healthy lifestyles.
The recent unveiling of a cancer treatment centre at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi Araba, is commendable. We also applaud the government’s promise to replicate the model across the country. While we charge the government to invest more in the training of oncologists, scientists must strive to get a cure for cancer.