Nigeria: Addressing the Cancer Scourge

Government should create the enabling environment for tackling the disease

As in recent years, the 2024 World Cancer Day, commemorated yesterday was muted in Nigeria even though the disease is ravaging the country. While nobody knows what has happened to the cancer fund established in 2019 by the federal government, Nigeria recorded 124,815 new cases of cancer in 2020. The economic crisis in the country has further worsened the plight of cancer patients, according to the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Cancer Society, Adamu Umar.

Although incidence of cancer has been on the increase in many regions of the world, mortality is relatively higher in countries like Nigeria due to the lack of access to treatment facilities, and late diagnosis, among others. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), estimated incidences for the top five commonest types of cancers in Nigeria are: breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and liver cancer in that order. These cancer types and the other less common kill about 80,000 Nigerians every year.

While the alarming rate of deaths from cancer points to the state of medical institutions, it is important for critical stakeholders to understand the danger the disease poses to the future of the country. It is bad enough that cancer is a terminal disease, it is worse when most Nigerian medical centres lack the diagnostic capacity to quickly detect and treat infections. That should encourage discussions on how to fashion both preventive and curative solutions at all levels of the society.

With data showing that the cost of cancer treatment and management is not in sync with the income of most Nigerians suffering from any type of the disease, government and other stakeholders must put a framework in place to encourage early diagnosis and access to affordable treatment and management. This would prevent late-stage diagnosis as well as help those suffering from the scourge to get proper treatment without them worrying over who pays the bill. Available statistics reveal that about 72 per cent of cancer patients in Nigeria pay out of pocket for their care.

Fortunately, the country’s healthcare system is tilting towards Universal Health Coverage (UCH) with the establishment of the Basic Health Care Provisions Fund (BHCPF) and health insurance schemes at both the national and state levels. There is a need to inculcate cancer care into all UHC programmes since poor Nigerians cannot pay out of pocket. This framework must ensure Nigerians, irrespective of location, can access diagnosis, treatment and management of cancer, while government sets aside from the insurance pool, funding to tackle their challenges. Cancer is preventable and treatable during its early stage, and Nigerians deserve this.

The most common cancers in adults include breast (16.5%), cervical (13.1%), prostate (9.4%), Colorectal (6%), and liver (4.6%), contributing to nearly half of the new cancer cases. “With significant data challenges, childhood cancer incidence in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at 56.3 per million population” reveals the WHO. “Current projections indicate that Africa will account for nearly 50% of the global childhood cancer burden by 2050”.

We believe that the task of saving its citizens from the cancer scourge remains essentially with government which must provide both the basic facilities to combat the disease and to create the enabling environment that can facilitate the collaboration of the private sector in tackling the menace. Increased awareness campaigns, improvements in public health and increased funding for health care initiatives – by government, donor agencies, and development partners – are all likely to lead to a decrease in the incidence of this killer disease. Nigerians themselves must also begin to imbibe the culture of regular medical check-ups so they can commence treatment of any diagnosed ailment promptly before it gets too late.

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