The Federal Government recently launched the National Cancer Control Plan (NCCP) 2018-2022 in Abuja.
Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, at the event, said the level of fatality of cancer cases in the country had become worrisome and called on all stakeholders to join the ministry to fight the scourge, stressing that it must be conquered.
On his part, Prof. Sunday Adewuyi, clinical and radiation oncologist, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, who, presented an overview of NCCP and state of cancer in Nigeria, painted the true picture thus: “Cancer is real and does not discriminate against tribe, religion, sex, educational level, political class or party.
“Being diagnosed of cancer in Nigeria is like a death sentence due to cost of drugs, surgeries and investigations, deficient facilities for radiotherapy and specialised care and adequate manpower in every aspect of oncologic therapies.”
Adewuyi pointed out that a nation’s healthcare delivery system had significant inputs from all stakeholders and that a good synergy was required to achieve optimal care.
According to him, some of the challenges faced by cancer patients in Nigeria include low insurance coverage to reduce financial burden on patients, deficient supply chain for drugs and consumables, lack of dedicated centres with optimal infrastructures and manpower.
He also mentioned the other challenges as lack of legislation and policies to fund cancer centres and cancer care.
Adewuyi further advocated declaration of a state-of-emergency in cancer care in Nigeria and 100 per cent implementation of the 2018-2022 Plan.
Pink Oak Cancer Trust, an NGO, seemed to have immediately taken the cue as the body on April 20, championed the cause in Abuja, to create awareness and financially assist those living with the disease.
The body, which has notable Nigerians as trustees and governing board members, with Fola Adeola as chairman and Chief Chidinma Uwajumogu, founder of Ego Bekee International Cancer Foundation, as his vice, hosted a strategic fund-raiser. Others on the governing board are Prof. Francis Durosinmi-Etti, Prof. Ifeoma Okoye, Dr. Abubakar Bello, head, Department of Oncology and Radiotherapy, National Hospital, Mrs. Fola Laoye, Hajia Aisha Babangida, Raymond Dokpesi (Jnr), chairman of DAAR Communications Group, Uche Orji, MD, National Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) and Runcie Chidebe, executive director, Project Pink Blue.
Executive Director of the NGO, Dr. Laz Eze, said their target is to generate N200 million to treat at least 50 cancer patients this year.
Eze, who explained that the organisation does not give money to patients directly but to the hospitals treating them, disclosed that it takes about N3.2m to treat a breast cancer patient.
“There are some cases where it might cost more than that,” he added, stating that, without money, treatment remained a difficult task. The group simply provides credible, innovative mechanism to mobilising resources to sponsor treatment of cancer.
According to the executive director, “By our current population of about 198 million, 1 per cent is about two million. So, that is perhaps the number of Nigerians who have health insurance. But the health insurance does not cover cancer. In fact, cancer used to be in the exclusive list, which means if you have cancer you are excluded from having NHIS coverage. That’s why advocates thought that it should be removed from the exclusive list. At the moment, most of the tests and other services of cancer are not covered by NHIS.
“It puts a whole lot of burden on the individual. So, Pink Oak brings together key stakeholders across public and private sectors; since without government, we can’t achieve the mandatory health insurance for all Nigerians. The Federal Ministry of Health is fully aware. More so, Pink Oak is structured with a clear vision and mission to raise money to improve access to cancer treatment. We have defined processes to get things done.”
Nevertheless, Eze maintained that attaining universal health coverage for Nigerians was the sustainable pathway. But before that While we wait for that to happen, the government needs to step in. Pink Oak provides platforms for government to contribute to funding cancer patients.
A cancer survivor, Gloria Orji, said it took the grace of God for her to be alive considering what she and other patients went through.
“I was diagnosed with cancer in August 2010. It was not easy. When I was told, I was confused because I didn’t know much about cancer. The doctor kept on encouraging me. Within me I thought it was the normal way doctors speak just to give hope to their patients. The doctor referred me to the National Hospital; even before I went there, I felt that my life was over. I started with haematology; I then moved to the surgery then to radiotherapy. I was on drugs for five years.
“Within that time, I was drained financially. Cancer is psychologically disturbing, especially when you do not have money to foot the bills,” Orji said.
The event coincided with Eze’s 36th birthday and guests, friends and family took time to celebrate the versatile public health expert after cutting a cake in his honour.
Now what is left is to see what the government would do in saving lives of cancer patients.