Government could do more in containing the scourge

The Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) said no fewer than two million Nigerian men and women are currently afflicted by cancer. In a communiqué issued by its President, Alhaji Toyosi Raheem, the AMLSN attributed the high rate of tumour and cancer in the country to a shift from the consumption of natural to artificial food and lack of regular physical exercise by citizens. “We call on the federal government to fully equip the cancer centre and programme it has established with adequate human and infrastructural resources. This will ensure early screening, confirmation and management of tumours and other health challenges as the rate of late cancer diagnosis and detection is on the increase,’’ he said.

Cancer has become an important health concern for the country. It is bad enough that the scourge is a terminal disease, it is worse that 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 to travel to countries like India, the Emirates, United Kingdom, etc., in search of treatment for the disease. The economic consequence of this is that it has led to so much capital flight.

It is indeed curious that despite avowals by successive governments that healthcare is one of its core agenda of action, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see the impact on the citizenry even with the existence of the National Health Insurance Scheme. The pertinent questions remain: Why can’t the government sufficiently equip one or two hospitals in the country to serve as cancer treatment centre? Why must Nigerians always be exposed to overseas travels in search of treatment? Why is it that a country with an estimated population of 180 million people has only six radiotherapy centres when the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended one per 250,000 persons?

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. But what is responsible for the growth of cancer scourge in Nigeria? Although medical experts differ somewhat as to the exact causes of the disease, there seem to be some agreement over the fact that increased rate of obesity, reduced physical activity, and more “Westernised” diets are likely contributors to the development of various types of cancer. Put more succinctly, the major cause is the habit of the people which is not helped by government policy or lack of one. For instance, while most countries are making stringent laws against tobacco consumption, our government seems to be encouraging it.

The burden of cancer in Nigeria is enormous. It is feared that by 2020, cancer incidence for Nigerian males and females may rise to 90.7/100,000 and 100.9/100,000, respectively. It is also estimated that by 2020, death rates from cancer for Nigerian males and females may reach 72.7/100,000 and 76/100,000 respectively.

All said, we believe that the task of saving its citizens from the cancer scourge remains essentially with government which has to 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 the 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.