Sola Ojo, Kaduna
Cancer is a dangerous disease. It kills like a poisonous snake, eating out its victims slowly, steadily and certainly, until it snaps out the life of them.
Everybody probably has heard of cancer, but not as much know that it is becoming widespread in Nigeria or that it is a threat to life, if it is not detected and treated at its earliest stages.
This is majorly the reason a leading Islamic women organisation, Sisters of Jannah (SoJ) is reaching out to women in the North about the dangers of cancer and calling on governance actors at all levels to scale up their attention to the disease.
Not done with that, they are screening these women as well as educating them to develop the habit of medically checking up themselves once in a while. At Rigassa, a densely populated community in Igabi Local Government Area of the state, Kaduna State, it was all enlightenment and education on the nature of cervical and breast cancer, accompanied with a free screening exercise.
Many Muslim women attended the session, heard of the disease for the first time and got themselves screened as well as advised on concrete steps to take to combat the disease, once detected.
The Coordinator, Sisters of Jannah, Kaduna Zone, Rukayat Olaitan Bello explained that they chose the community for the program because of its large population adding that a lot of women in the community and in other communities have little or no knowledge about cervical and breast cancer.
“We came to this area because they are not knowledgeable about this particular type of cancer which is the number one type here in the North” she stated.
“We came earlier to discuss with the community and they were very happy that we are coming here to create awareness as well as to offer free screening exercise against the deadly disease which is preventable if detected on time,” she recounted in a chat with Daily Sun.
She appealed to government at all levels to embark on cancer vaccination of children between 9-13 years at least for three consecutive years.
“If this is done, then, thousands, if not millions of lives would be saved by that singular cheaper and effective act” she stated.
Dr Aisha Mustapha, an employee of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH) Shika, addressed the women. She explained that in Nigeria, breast and cervical cancer were the two leading types of cancer among women.
She held that, “There is Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is the causative organism of cervical cancer and other cancers like vagina, Vulva cancers. It is common in HIV positive women, women with high parity, and those with multiple sexual partners”
“HPV also causes cancers in men like penile cancer. There is a vaccine for HPV. Two of these vaccines have been licensed in Nigeria Gardasil which is quadrivalent and cervarix which is bivalent,” she stated.
“There is also the nonavalent vaccine. Young girls (and boys) that aren’t sexually active from 9-13 years should get the vaccine. There is benefit of vaccination at older ages though. These vaccines are not readily available and affordable but can be administered at hospitals on request” she added.
“There are efforts to include HPV vaccination into routine immunization and we hope this is achieved soon. For older women, cervical cancer screening in the form of HPV testing, paper smear, visual inspection of the cervix and other tests are strongly recommended.
“Breast and cervical cancer are the first and second common female cancers in Nigeria. But cervical cancer is prevalent in the north probably because of poor awareness largely from differing sociodemographics.
“When breast cancer is detected at screening, appropriate treatment must be instituted. No need for screening individuals that would not be treated” she stated.
“Late signs like constipation, decrease urine output and renal failure can occur. The disease can be treated using different modalities like surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other methods.
“Cervical cancer is killing women of reproductive (and productive) age. We are calling on all stakeholders, including the government, associations like the Medical Women Association of Nigeria (MWAN), religion and traditional leaders, corporate organisations and other NGOs to join hands to curb the scourge of cervical cancer in Nigeria,” she explained.
Sarki Hayin Mallam Bello, Alhaji Kabiru Isa Gangarida said that he was happy to welcome the team to his community. A middle aged woman, Farida Idris said, she had never heard anything about cancer, “So, when it was announced in the mosque that some women are coming to talk and screen women in this area, I suspended everything so could have enough time to participate. I have been screwed and happy to know I am negative.
Another beneficiary of the program, Maryam Abdullahi said though she had heard about cancer, she had never visited any hospital for check up or for screening for cancer despite being married for years with children.
According to her, “I have plenty children so each time I hear about cervical cancer, I always usually become afraid until today. Now, I have been screened and the result was negative. I am so happy about that. May Almighty Allah bless all those who make this happen,”