Yusuf: Cancer is Not Death Sentence

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Kayode Yusuf is a trained oncologist and the CEO, L’Pacemaker Limited. In this interview with Golde Vera, he posited that cancer can be treated successfully if presented early enough. He also spoke about the need for government to subsidise treatment, and what Nigerians need to do to prevent the scourge. Excerpts;

The rate of death from cancer is significantly increasing in Nigeria. How can government collaborate to eradicate the scourge?
The rate of death from cancer is increasing in Nigeria because we are still trying to move forward, though effort is being made to make things better. The reason why the rate is a little bit high in Nigeria is because there are things that are still lacking. Cancer is not actually a death sentence but a lot of people think once you have it the person dies. No, people survive it.

But what are the things that will help one’s survival rate?
Number one is early presentation and right diagnosis. But you see in Nigeria, most of those things are still lacking, people show up when it is so bad. We have stages one to four, but by the time it gets to the last stage, that is when people come to the hospital. I think it is more of the enlightenment, which is going on right now. Non-governmental organisations are coming in with people and collaborating with the government, because the government cannot handle this alone. I think one of the things the government can do is enlighten the people, do more of campaign just the way they have done for tuberculosis and polio. For example, there is something they have done with malaria which is the global fund PMFN Nigeria malaria eradication program. From the report we are getting, we realize that the incident is gradually going down and this happens because there is government involvement. Government is bringing the global fund whereby they can subsidise the cost. Sincerely, most people die from cancer because it is expensive. Some people, when they are told the cost, they just give up and say its better they go and die because cancer treatment is very expensive all over the world. If the government can come in with subsidies, bring in partners from abroad or get in touch with the global fund players whereby they can help just the way they are helping with tuberculosis and polio, I think it will really increase the access to both early detection, diagnosis and the treatment itself. After chemotherapy, there is radiotherapy that the patients have to go through, but the machines are so few in Nigeria. Even among the few available, it’s either one has broken down or another is not functioning well. Government can come in because the investment is heavy, it can provide this machine to the entire general and teaching hospitals, get the normal approval from the regulatory board, and partner private entites to make the radio machine available, I think it can reduce the death rate because they will be cheap.

What determines survival in a cancer situation?
There are four stages of cancer, so early detection protects life. A woman that presents herself at the early stage of breast cancer stands a high chance of survival compared to a woman that comes in at stage four.`

Do you think they know about it early?
No, they might not know because cancer does not show sign at the early stage. By the time it shows signs, it may be full blown. A woman could have lump and just think it is nothing, where as it will continue to spread. If it is malaria, the person might begin to shiver, thereby knowing what to do.

So, science is not there yet. What we do is continue to care for our people, just the way I do for my flocks as a pastor. We treat patients that cannot afford it. We get documentation from their hospital and we give them free treatment. For instance, the patient might be billed for six courses, but we will pay for two or three. For children at particular age, we pay in full for them.

What are your challenges as a company?
The challenges we face as a company normally is on the business terrain in Nigeria. If bottlenecks are addressed a lot of things will be alright. Everybody knows that it is tough doing business in Nigeria. It is a very tough terrain to do business in Nigeria, and apart from that, there are issues around controlling and managing products. Another thing is capital; funds are not too available for us to get some things, these are just the normal everyday challenges that companies face.

What prompted you to study pharmacy?
I didn’t want to study pharmacy at first. I wanted to study medicine but there is a way you plan something but God and destiny would just shape it the way it should be. Bible says that there is a way that seems right to a man, but sometime, it might just not be that way and a lot of people could be walking in another man’s clock. Initially there was this craze, everybody wanted to be medical doctors. Our parents wanted us to be medical doctors, but somehow, I got into the pharmacy profession. I was initially studying biochemistry and wanted to change to medicine, but it came out it was pharmacy, and there is no regret at all. It’s been a very beautiful profession and fulfilling, even though very challenging. So, if you ask what prompted me, I would say nothing really prompted me into pharmacy because I wanted to study medicine. Before I got into the university, I was somebody that was already into business, maybe I would have caged myself with all due respect, but I really thank God for everything.

What does L’pacemaker means?
L’pacemaker is a French word and it means The Pacemaker. I’m a trained pharmacist by profession and I had this thing for oncology. l did my training in oncology and the company I worked with was into oncology, so when we came into it, it was a field that few players were then. We came with a vision and a goal to make impact and bring another dimension into the oncology market. God has been faithful to us, and if it comes to oncology; I would say we are the company that has the largest number of staff dedicated to oncology in Nigeria. People know us for oncology though we have some other drugs coming in here and there.

What informed your decision to allow your wife work with you?
Once I am in the office I become very professional. Once I am in the church, I change to church mode, though am always spiritual from morning till night. Then once I am in the house, I change to family mode. It is very easy for my wife to work with me because we all understand these. She is a professional and has worked in places where she got to a management stage. So, it is easy for her. As a professional, you don’t mix family with business. Once we get into the office she understands it is not usual honey thing. That is why in the office, I won’t call her honey but I would call her by her designation in the office. So, it’s easy for her to flow into the system. And I think it is best for us because at least we can have a little bit of security guaranty in that aspect somebody that understand the vision, in the office she is into the HR and the account sections. You can vouch for her and think less in that area.