08 Feb 2016

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The health authorities could do more in combating the dreaded disease

Nigeria joined the rest of the world last Thursday to mark World Cancer Day with the theme: “We can, I can”. Unfortunately, while other societies are making serious efforts to combat the disease, there is still more talk than action in our country, even with cancer on the rampage, killing men and women and without discriminating between the high and the low of society.

Statistics of deaths from cancer are so chilling that most medical experts are now in agreement that the disease has become an important health care concern in the country. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 715,000 new cancer cases and 542,000 cancer deaths were recorded in 2008 alone in Africa. Similarly, figures released by the National Cancer Prevention Programme (NCPP) showed that some 24 Nigerians die daily from cancer-related ailments.

“As we commemorate World Cancer Day, I call on governments to step up their response to cancer by taking concrete actions to reduce premature deaths and improve the quality of life and cancer survival rates,” said the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti who expressed the body’s commitment to “design and implement effective cancer control plans,” adding that growing burden of the disease “warrants urgent attention”.

Cancer is an ailment where early detection and treatment can make the difference between life and death. The high death rate from cancer in Nigeria is a measure of the state of our healthcare delivery system. Most Nigerian hospitals and medical centres lack the diagnostic capacity to quickly detect and treat cancer infections. This has greatly compounded the problem, forcing several Nigerians who can afford it to travel to countries like India, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, etc., in search of treatment for the disease.

According to WHO estimates, one-third of cancer cases are preventable while another one-third can live qualitatively if given adequate and timely treatment. Dr. Christopher Kolade, a member of Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) for early detection and treatment of the disease, said recently that cancer is not a death sentence but a challenge “that all Nigerians must brace up to defeat”, adding, “If we do not engage in the war to defeat cancer, then cancer will overcome us.”

Instructively, the most common types of cancer in Nigeria are carcinoma of the uterine cervix and breast for women and liver and prostate cancers for men over 40 years old. Cervical cancer kills far too many women yearly because of lack of awareness and resources for treatment even when it has been shown that simple and inexpensive vinegar test can cut down drastically the number of deaths. Unfortunately, it does not seem as if Nigerians are paying attention, even when many of our prominent citizens have succumbed to the disease in recent years.

All said, we believe that the task of saving citizens from the cancer scourge remains essentially with government which has to provide both the basic facilities to combat the disease and create the enabling environment that can facilitate collaboration with the private sector in tackling the menace. Increased awareness campaigns, improvements in public health and increased funding of 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. Regular exercise, weight loss and imbibing a culture of healthy lifestyles could also reduce the risk by 50 per cent.

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