Waging Old Cancer War on a New Frontier

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Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu

As the world marked the World Cancer Day last Tuesday, the First Lady of Kebbi State and founder, Medicaid Cancer Foundation, Dr. Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu took the cancer awareness campaign and education to Internally Displaced Children. Olaoluwakitan Babatunde captures the moments and the benefits of catching them young

The World Cancer Day is set aside to raise awareness and education about the scourge of cancer. It also aims to move governments and people, the world over, to action against the disease. Here in Nigeria, cancer has continued to ravage the young and the old as cancer cases are on the increase, leaving many dead and others battling to survive. Why not? when awareness is low and the Nigerian medical system lacks the desired capacity to fight the scourge. This has resulted in medical pilgrimage to countries like India, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, among others, by a few that can afford it.

A Public Health Physician and Executive Director of Pink Oak Cancer Trust, Dr. Laz Eze, brought the ugly pictures closer home in a piece entitled “Who Will Save Nigerians from the Terror Called Cancer”, published on World Cancer Day. He said reflecting on the scourge brought him with mixed feelings, mostly sadness. According to him, seven out of 10 Nigerians with cancer get killed by the disease. He also said that cancer kills over 70,000 Nigerians in one year, more than Boko Haram has killed in 10 years.

“I remembered Mr. KC – my friend and schoolmate, who died of Pancreatic Cancer in November 2019 at the age of 39. A year earlier, he had mourned his sister who died of colon cancer. Also, his elder sister (a widow) was killed by breast cancer in January 2020 (two months after KC’s death). She lost her husband a couple of years earlier to anal cancer. Both parents died within the past decade, one was killed by cancer. This is not fiction!

“Two, I reflected on a case of an oncologist in a teaching hospital in one of the South-South states who detected Stage 1 breast cancer on herself recently during a routine mammography. She earns more than N500,000 monthly and is not poor by any standard. But she requires N14 million, more than her annual salary, for a complete course (18 doses) of combined pertuzumab/trastuzumab treatment.

“But I feel happy about the progress made in the past decade especially in the area of awareness creation in urban areas. However, it is like a drop of water into an ocean. Majority of our critical stakeholders and population lack knowledge about cancer, its prevention and care. As a result, many still die from the ignorance. How do we reach them?”, he said.
The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) has an idea, which is commitment by governments and individuals. As theme for the World Cancer Day 2019-2021 organised by the organisation – “I Am and I Will” – aptly captures, the UICC believes that such commitment “will lead to powerful progress in reducing the global impact of cancer”.

“So, this 4 February whoever you are, your actions – big and small -will make lasting, positive change because, progress is possible. We need your commitment to create a cancer-free world. I Am and I Will’ is an empowering call-to-action urging for personal commitment and represents the power of individual action taken now to impact the future”, UICC reiterates.

It is in response to this desperate call and utter need for greater awareness among the unreached segments of the society that the First Lady of Kebbi State and Founder of Medicaid Cancer Foundation (MCF), Dr. Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu, took the awareness campaign to the Early Years for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), an initiative of the Maple Leaf Early Years Centre, Gwarimpa, Abuja, as part of events to mark the World Cancer Day 2020.

By the way, Dr. Shinkafi-Bagudu is not your everyday kind of First Lady. Though quite loaded in the brain and sophiscated, she is down to earth, and natural. But for her height, you would mistake her for one of the internally displaced children at the Maple Leaf Early Years Centre as she sang, hugged, pecked, lifted, danced, jumped with the children and joined them in painting all manner of fruits to demonstrate her lessons.

The least impression she lives with you was that of an experienced teacher. However, when you got to know she is a paediatric doctor, then you are able to put fingers on how she easily warms her way into the hearts of the children and made them feel so much at home with her that they were so reluctant to let go of her at the end of the programme. They were practically all over her and she cuddled them like her own children. You would also not fail to marvel at her ability to call the children by their names in the course of the programme as though she had known them for ages.

To cap it up, she dolled out gifts, including Medicaid Cancer Foundation branded school bags to them.
Speaking on her experience, Dr. Shinkafi-Bagudu said: “It was a heart-warming experience for me in two respects. The innocence and spontaneity of the children was one. The philanthropic purity of Ndubuisi, an indigene of Imo State’s heart is extremely commendable in the Nigeria we live in today, a Nigeria besieged by misguided religious idealists and increasingly intolerant of one another”.

She strongly advocated cancer awareness campaign and education among children in their early years as one of the effective ways of fighting the cancer scourge. Such early awareness, according to her, would help them form lifestyles that would help protect them from falling easy preys to cancer.

“Normally, Nigerians don’t have enough information about cancer early enough, most times until late into their adult lives when they may have formed lifestyles that predispose them to cancer.
“So, the idea behind this campaign is to catch them young, to expose these little ones to basic information about cancer. As you could see, before we left, they could easily chorus the meaning of cancer. These children now know what cancer is. They now know the types of cancer out there – like skin cancer, blood cancer, lung cancer, cervical cancer, and the rest.

“Importantly, they now know they could lower their risks of cancer by reducing their sugar intake, eating enough fruits and vegetables, having enough sleep, exercising regularly, taking vaccine for some types of cancer and also going for screening.

“We also guided them in expressing their knowledge of cancer through painting. In fact, I like such impressionable minds. That was why we brought painting materials for all of them to paint different kinds of fruits- pineapple, orange, mango, apple, banana and the rest of them.

“That was also why we were all jumping up and down, demonstrating various kinds of basic exercise and also sweating it out with the children. Our team believes so much in practical learning as much as possible.

“There are fifty of them here and I have no doubt that they will take the message to the IDP camps, especially to their peers. And we will keep reinforcing it beyond the World Cancer Day”, she added. She enjoined early years education planners and institutions to also help catch them young.

Meanwhile, the awareness campaign was watched around the world as it was one of the global events beamed live by the UICC, Geneva, Switzerland, on its various social media platforms to mark the Day.

This is not surprising as Dr. Shinkafi-Bagudu is an internationally recognised credible voice and an old horse in the fierce battle against cancer. She is, in fact, the first African and woman member of the UICC.

A graduate of the esteemed Ahmadu Bello University Zaria where she qualified as a medical doctor before proceeding to the United Kingdom for a specialist training in Paediatrics and Neonatolog, she founded the Medicaid Cancer Foundation (MCF) in 2009 and legally registered it in 2012 to support cancer patients, promote cancer awareness and drive community cancer campaigns for underserved populace in Nigeria.

It was conceived out of the need to create a much-needed support system for patients, families and caregivers dealing with cancer given the experience at the Medicaid Radio-Diagnostics where many, who were diagnosed with cancer were unable to raise the needed funds for treatment. Importantly, the MCF works on cancer’s full continuum – from diagnosis to the myriad questions and answers associated with treatment and care, through the journey to full survivorship, to managing the life-changing experience for the patients, families and caregivers.

The MCF has also become quite famous for the annual one million-walk away cancer fundraiser. It boasts of over 486 volunteers, received USD63,000 in donations, and covered 12 states, supporting over 238 patients.

Meanwhile, another remarkable thing about the day, which did not escape Dr. Shinkafi-Bagudu’s attention, was the fact that the Early Years for IDPs Initiative is run by a South Easterner, not some northerners, who bear the brunt of terrorism and insurgency. They are not also funded by the government or donor agencies, but largely from the individual resources of the proprietors.

Co-founder of the Initiative and Maple Leaf Early Years Centre, Mr. Ndubuisi Nwigwe, said it was inspired by the need to give children displaced by insurgency and banditry quality early childhood education and a future beyond the IDP camps.
While commending Dr. Shinkafi-Bagudu for her cancer awareness campaign and support, he called on other well-meaning Nigerians to key into the Early Years for IDPs Initiative too.

“We have 50 of them and we are in our second year. We pick them in the Durumi IDP Camp and take them back in the evening. We equally give them breakfast, lunch, and then snack before they depart for the IDP camp. We also hold resident summer camps for them during the holidays.
“We run this initiative with our personal efforts and support of a few kind-spirited Nigerians”.

The efforts by various public-spirited Nigerians and organisations like the MCF, etc. notwithstanding, stakeholders, including the President, Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Francis Faduyile, who gathered at the lecture themed “Roadmap to Ending Preventable Cancer Deaths in Nigeria” also organised by Dr. Shinkafi-Bagudu to wrap up the 2020 World Cancer Day Tuesday evening believe government at all level must play their part if the war against cancer must be won.

But as the nation braces up for the battle ahead, one thing is sure: the First Lady of Kebbi State has just inducted new and future soldiers in the war against cancer.