As the world marked the 2024 World Cancer Day on February 4, one issue that dominated public health discourse was how to win the war against cancer in its various forms. Given its relentlessness in decimating its victims and the rising statistics of its incidences, cancer ranks as a leading cause of death and an important barrier to increasing life expectancy in every country of the world.
Little wonder, therefore, that the mere diagnosis of cancer for any individual is easily perceived as a death sentence. The foregoing in the simplest terms portrays the concern with which the issue of cancer is viewed by the contemporary world and justifies the global concern over the level and forms of responses mustered across the globe to contend with the problem.
Meanwhile, placed in specific terms, lying against the backdrop of the foregoing is a disappointing failure by the leadership community of the world to match the severity of the scourge with the necessary responses in terms of advocacy and resources. Put more succinctly, there is a groundswell of misgivings that the manifest burden of cancer is yet to receive the expected remedial actions that will change the narrative about the scourge. Hence, the theme for the 2024 World Cancer Day is: “Together we challenge those in power”.
The theme constitutes a call to action by leaders across the world: national governments and relevant regional, as well as global multilateral institutions, in the light of the fact that not enough is being done to contain the disease and work towards a cancer-free world. The situation is further accentuated by the enterprise of medical science which is progressing assiduously towards a cancer-free world but which cannot manifest without adequate support by the designated leadership community of the world. At least, thanks to recent advances in medical science, several forms of cancer can be treated presently; a situation which provides hope that with further efforts the scourge can be contained substantially.
To accentuate the need for urgent action is the complement of available statistics in respect of the cancer scourge at both the global level and the Nigerian situation which paint a disturbing picture of its negative impact. For instance, at the global level, in 2022 alone, there were as many as 19.3 million new cases of cancer, out of which 10.0 million died. This figure excludes the statistics for melanoma (skin cancer) cases. Such harrowing statistics render the scourge with perhaps the worst mortality rate and is therefore a public enemy of the first order to the entire world.
Just as well, according to official statistics for Nigeria, an average of 102,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year, with 72,000 deaths occurring out of this number in a population of slightly over 200 million. Also of concern is that in 2023 as much as 28 per cent of Nigerian families were impacted by cancer in one form or the other in the sense that at least one family member had one type of cancer.
This, however, is in respect of reported cases which supposedly may be grossly conservative given the poor demographic record keeping culture of the Nigerian society. For in effect, numerous cases of cancer go unreported as both the victims and family members blame their illnesses on other disease-causing vectors, and even esoteric factors.
Nigeria’s depressed situation is accentuated further by the complement of challenges which make cancer a pandemic. Among the challenges are the abysmally poor health management system, lack of human resources to provide the requisite care, poor public enlightenment programmes, lack of screening centres and the high cost of drugs. The cumulative consequences of these factors is the avoidable loss of valued members of society.
This is why Nigeria’s national initiative for curbing the cancer scourge needs to be revamped, especially in the light of the theme of the 2024 World Cancer Day. The immediate areas of review of the cancer management programme remain the increase and improvement of the screening centres where the first contact with patients is established. Presently, the list of cancer screening centres in the country is shorter than can optimally serve the huge population. Secondly, the centres are mostly private sector-driven facilities which are profit-driven and therefore are out of the reach of poor patients.
The need, therefore, exists to provide more screening centres in public-owned health institutions across the country, advisedly in every LGA. Other areas include those of public enlightenment, subsiding the cost of drugs and making such available to the needy, and the accelerated training of caregivers.
The foregoing discourse on improved management of cancer underscores a call for the comprehensive reinvention of the country’s health system to a level that is compatible with the desired and effective management of cancer and winning the war against the scourge across the country.