CONTAINING THE CANCER EPIDEMIC

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Government could do more in curbing the scourge

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently estimated that in 2018, no fewer than 116,000 new cases of cancer and 41,000 cancer-related deaths were recorded in Nigeria. As alarming as those figures may seem, the situation may actually be far worse. Yet the increasing cases of cancer infections among Nigerians, young and old, only help to make life and living a little more precarious. In recent years, reported cases of people afflicted with cancer in the country have been on a steady rise.

While donating breast prostheses and prosthetic bras worth over N2 million to breast cancer survivors in collaboration with Polaris Bank recently, the Care Organisation Public Enlightenment (COPE) Executive Director, Mrs Ebun Anozie, expressed concerns that 70 per cent of cancer patients are misdiagnosed in Nigeria while the ill-equipped and inefficient health facilities continue to hamper treatment of patients. “My late father, for example, was misdiagnosed and badly treated in his cancer journey. Sadly, I have witnessed numerous cases. We have many cases of a false positive and false negative”, Anozie said.

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 an important health care concern for the country. Further complicating the situation is the very low awareness of the scourge, especially among rural women.

Medical experts somewhat differ on the likely causes of cancer but there is a consensus that it is largely the consequence of lifestyle. People’s dietary habits, lack of exercise, irregular or no breast examination, and lack of mammogram checks (especially for those 40 years old and more) are major factors. Research has also shown that cancer could occur more with people who eat much red and processed meat because such meat is known to have plenty of cancer-causing chemicals and fats. Still, many believe that 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, our government seems to be encouraging it.

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 this killer disease. Nigerians themselves must also begin to imbibe the culture of regular medical check up 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 50 per cent.

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.