Government could do more to tame the menace

The increasing burden of cancer on Nigerians was again underlined on Monday while the World Cancer Day was being commemorated. In recent years, reported cases of people afflicted with the disease are frightening. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) some 41,000 people lost their lives to cancer out of 166, 000 cases recorded in Nigeria last year.

But even worse, WHO Nigeria Health Emergency Team head, Dr. Clement Peter raised concerns that the country might continue to experience a rise in the scourge if stringent measures are not taken by individuals, communities and the government towards addressing the drivers of the disease.

The burden of cancer in Nigeria is enormous. According to the WHO, it is feared that by 2020, cancer incidence for Nigerian males and females may rise to 91/100,000 and 101/100,000, respectively. It is also estimated that by 2020, death rates from cancer for Nigerian males and females may reach 73/100,000 and 76/100,000 respectively. There are some 100 varieties of the disease but the commonest types in Nigeria are carcinoma of the uterine cervix and breast for women and liver and prostate cancers for men over 40 years.

Medical experts somewhat differ on the likely causes, but there is a consensus that it is largely the consequence of lifestyle. Peter said last Monday that the key drivers of the disease are tobacco use, alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diets. Researches have also shown that cancer could occur more with people who eat much red and processed meat because they are known to have cancer-causing chemicals and fats.

It is bad enough that cancer is a terminal disease, it is worse that most Nigerian 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 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 while most medical experts are now agreed that the disease has become a major public health concern for the country.

Further complicating the situation is the very low awareness of the scourge among Nigerians, especially rural women. The Federal Ministry of Health and the National Orientation Agency are yet to create the level of awareness that would bring sufferers to the danger of the cancer.

We believe that the task of saving its citizens from the cancer menace 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. For instance, while most countries are making stringent laws including heavy taxes on tobacco, our government seems to be encouraging it. 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. Regular exercise, losing weight and imbibing the culture of health maintenance could reduce the risk by a large margin.

While the alarming rate of death from cancer points to the state of medical institutions in Nigeria, it is important for critical stakeholders to understand the danger the disease poses to the future of our country. That should encourage discussions on how to fashion both preventive and curative solutions at all levels of the society.