Martins Ifijeh writes on the Nigerian Stock Exchange Corporate Challenge where staff of over 200 listed companies defied the rain to take part in a 5km race against cancer 
 
While a typical heavy downpour on a Saturday morning in Lagos can alter an entire schedule for many residents of the state, those who hate cancer did not let the early morning rain of July 1stdeter them. By 7a.m., they were already at the Onikan Stadium where a five kilometres race against cancer kicked off.
 
It was the 4th edition of the Nigerian Stock Exchange Corporate Challenge, a highly competitive fun-filled walk, jog and run exercise, aimed at raising awareness against one of the biggest health burdens in the country, cancer. It was also aimed at raising funds for the purchase of 37 Mobile Cancer Centres (MCC) valued each at $613,000.
 
United for the common cause, the 850 participants, whose passion to see the scourge, currently affecting over two million Nigerians eradicated, knew that since cancer does not care about a heavy downpour or a cold weather before it strikes its victims, there was no reason to run away from the wet day to raise awareness on the growing health condition.
 
The move, no doubt is because of the growing concern over the increased incidence of various types of cancer in the country which has led a lot of Nigerians to their early graves.
 
The World Health Organisation, recently, said 80,000 Nigerians die from cancer every year, making it the only country in Africa with the highest death rate of the preventable disease. It also said a high number of people with cancer conditions in the country eventually fall to the disease.
 
For specifics, 40 women die every day in Nigeria due to breast cancer. Twenty-six women die daily of cervical cancer. Twenty-six men die daily of prostrate cancer. Apart from these three, many Nigerians die daily from other forms of cancer, including colorectal, skin, lung, ovarian cancer, among others.
 
Available information suggests that this figure will snowball into an uncontrollable health burden for the country within the next decade because of various identifiable factors which experts say must be looked into if the country is serious about winning the war against the disease.
 
Among the identified factors are; late presentation of cancer cases, lack of adequate facilities to match the diseases, high cost of treatment, among others. But chief among these factors, according to some school of thoughts, is the late presentation of cases by Nigerians, which has seen treatment and management of the disease difficult for professionals to handle, thereby leading to thousands of deaths yearly.
 
WHO indicates that the shortage of functional cancer control plan is especially alarming in developing countries like Nigeria, which already accounts for more than two-thirds of the new cancer cases and deaths each year.
 
According to Dr. Andreas Ullrich of WHO’s Department of Chronic Diseases, the situation might get worse in metropolitan areas of the developing world as populations age and increasingly feel the impact of exposure to major risk factors such as tobacco, certain chemicals and infections.
 
But, it is in tackling these, knowing the enormous burden it has on victims, families, societies and the nation, that the Nigerian Stock Exchange, brought together over 200 companies and institutions; including Dangote Group, Medview Airline, First Bank of Nigeria Holdings, Diamond Bank Plc, LaFarge Africa Plc, Nigeria Breweries Plc, Stanbic IBTC Holdings, Unilever Plc, Union Bank Plc, Wapic Insurance PLC, among others to participate in the race against cancer.
 
Speaking during the Challenge, the wife of the governor of Ondo State, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu said there were various risk factors associated with the disease, including use of tobacco, lifestyle modification like sedentary lifestyle and poor dieting, family history of cancer, overweight, aging, alcohol intake, among others.
 
She said most of the risk factors can be prevented if Nigerians eat healthily, quit smoking and alcohol use, exercise, generally take care of their health, among others. Adding that, certain risk factors increase the chances of people coming down with cancer.
 
Anyanwu-Akeredolu, who is a breast cancer survivor and the founder of Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN), said despite the situation “cancer is not a death sentence. It can be treated and managed properly if detected on time.”
 
“The key here is early detection. Nigerians should cultivate the habit of routine health check, so that the cancer causing cells can be spotted on time before they grow into full blown cancer cells. At this point they can be treated and well managed,” she added.
 
The cancer advocate frowned at late presentation of cases, noting that when cancer is presented late, it becomes more difficult at that point to treat. “I was able to beat cancer 20 years ago because I presented early. I am a testimony today because I survived cancer. The key is early detection. We know we are very religious in this country, but we should not undermine the benefits of early presentation of cancer to the hospital,” she said.
 
While calling on kindhearted Nigerians and institutions to support the fight against the scourge, she called for increased investment through a public-private sector partnership that will improve the screening process for cancer in Nigeria, considering the huge costs involved.
 
“How many governments and organisations like the ones listed in the Nigerian Stock Exchange are allocating special funds for tackling cancer? Budgets should be allocated to tackle cancer. There should also be corporate social responsibilities geared towards championing causes against the deadly health issue in the country,” she added.
 
The Ondo First Lady, who said Nigerians should discard superstitions and misconceptions about cancer, said her organisation will continue to champion cause against cancer; a move that spurred her towards honouring the invitation of the NSE to be part of the Challenge.
 
She commended NSE for galvanising efforts towards raising awareness and mobilising funds for the purchase of Mobile Cancer Centres across the 36 states in the country and Abuja.
 
Anyanwu-Akeredolu used the occasion to call on the federal and various state governments to effect policies that will attract private capital investments into the healthcare sector to tackle diseases like cancer.
 
On his part, the Chief Executive Officer, NSE, Mr. Oscar Onyema, who participated in the five kilometres race, said it was amazing and emotional to see a lot of people turn out in the pouring rain to save lives.
 
“Cancer doesn’t care about the weather, and neither do we. We believe one of the ways to curb the growing health challenge is to raise awareness about it. And today’s level of participation, despite the continuous rain, showed that we can defeat cancer. This year’s event attracted over 200 partner companies who are all in massive support for the cause to tackle the cancer scourge in Nigeria,” he said.
 
Onyema lauded the listed companies, non-listed companies, organisations, notable Nigerians and celebrities for their continuous support for the NSE Corporate Challenge since inception. He said the NSE remained focus in one of its CSR efforts of mobilising funds.
 
“We remain focused in one of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts of mobilising funds for the purchase of Mobile Cancer Centres in the country. Through this initiative, we want to provide access for early detection and treatment of cancers so that people can live to their full potential. With your support, we believe we can save lives.
 
“Fitness is important in our day-to-day activities and like they say, health is wealth. A lot of us underestimate the impact of good health, which is actually a major asset. And so we are also encouraging people to keep fit by exercising regularly because it will help to increase our life expectancy. It will also help us to be more productive in our place of work. So, it is good when people live healthily,” he added.
 
The Acting Head, Corporate Services Division, Ms. Pai Gamde, stated that “the inconvenience of the rain cannot be compared to the pain of cancer. We are indescribably grateful and awestruck by the love and support shown by all who came to participate: our walkers, teams, sponsors, donors, volunteers, everyone who made this day possible. This year, we worked in close partnership with various sponsors, partners and volunteers.”
 
At the end of the five kilometres race, Anokue Uzochukwu from Cutix Plc emerge the overall winner within 18 minutes 48 seconds, which earned him a return ticket to London, courtesy of Medview Airline Plc, a tablet and Gym membership from Bodyline.
 
Austin Ani from Stanbic IBTC and Igiriogun John Bosco from Cutix Plc came second and third respectively, winning a smartphone and gym membership each. Okorie Chisom Favour from Dangote Group Plc emerged the fastest female, earning her a return ticket to London, courtesy of Medview Airline Plc, a smartphone and Gym membership from Bodyline. Graeme Bride from Lafarge came first in the senior citizen category, winning a smartphone and Gym membership.
 
With this year’s edition over, Nigerians are optimistic that governments and well-meaning Nigerians will support the cause by supporting the purchase of the MCC, increase interventions on eradication of cancer, as well as in turn aid Nigerians to be more knowledgeable on risks, prevention and treatment of the deadly disease.