Tackling the Cancer Scourge with Better Equipment

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One of the LINACS at LUTH

The high fatality rate regarding cancer in Nigeria was a subject of discussion at an oncology summit in Lagos. Addressing the dearth in quality equipment is the topmost solution, writes Ugo Aliogu

Last week in Lagos, stakeholders in Nigeria’s health sector met in Lagos to discuss the state of cancer treatment in Nigeria and how best to improve survival rates going forward.

Tagged the Varian Oncology Summit, it was held at the instance of Varian Medical Systems in conjunction with TANIT Medical Engineering.

The summit was an opportunity for Varian to introduce the latest developments in cancer care to health practitioners and also for stakeholders across the value chain to discuss and develop possible approaches to efficiently deploy quality treatment across Nigeria.

Varian is the world leader in radiation oncology solutions encompassing hardware and software, while TANIT is its local partner in Nigeria helping to interface with local practitioners and managing projects.

Chief among these projects is the Public Private Partnership between the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) and the Lagos University Teaching Hospital that birthed the cancer building at LUTH. The cancer centre at LUTH is equipped by Varian.

One of the recurring themes during the summit which was held at the Eko Hotel and Suites is the need for more medical linear accelerators (LINAC) if Nigeria is to contain the rising cases of cancer in the country.

Speaking with journalists just before the summit commenced in earnest, the Regional Sales Manager West and East Africa for Varian, Ansu Dukuray, said his organization is focusing on Nigeria because of the death rate. “We want to bring the right attention to cancer in Nigeria because so many people are dying of cancer every day.”

The statistics show that more than 100,000 people are diagnosed with cancer yearly in Nigeria with an alarming 80,000 succumbing to the disease.

It was agreed that a major reason is lack of treatment due to a dearth of medical equipment. According to the experts, while 200 LINAC machines are needed for a country of Nigeria’s population, only six are available, with three of them operated by NSIA at LUTH.

 A LINAC is the device most commonly used for external beam radiation treatments for patients with cancer. It delivers high-energy x-rays or electrons to the region of the patient’s tumour.

“In Nigeria, today, we need 200 LINACS to adequately address the treatment of cancer. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), you need one LINAC per one million people.  We are engaging the public and private sector to beef up the capacity across the country,” Dukuray said on the sidelines of the summit.

Speaking on the progress made at the cancer centre in LUTH he continued, “Today patients are treated there. That was not the case before now.”

He further noted that the organization is engaging locally, adding that in partnership with TANIT, “we have trained engineers in Nigeria to start operating the equipment at LUTH. So what it means is that we don’t have to wait for engineers to come from the US to operate the facility.”

He continued that Varian has the responsibility to make sure the machines work for the next 10 years.  “We are changing the narrative. LUTH is a start.”

Dukuray debunked the narrative that LINACs don’t work in Africa as he said that no LINAC in LUTH has ever stopped working.

“They are 95 to 98 per cent of the time in treatment of patients,” he said, this despite the electricity challenges in the country.

“The technology is second to none anywhere in the world. The only reason anyone will decide to travel out (for treatment) is because of the backlog (of patients) because we don’t have enough equipment.”

He also revealed that Varian is building capacity in Nigeria with a training centre. “We are engaging public and private partners to help build capacity. We feel Nigeria is very important. The training centre will train Nigerians and other countries can come to Nigeria to build capacity. We are building the pillars.”

In his remarks, the CEO of TANIT, Anthony Nader, said the organisation has helped shape the project in LUTH from feasibility to business planning and construction.

“The cancer centre project in LUTH is a Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative project done in collaboration with LUTH and the NSIA. The role of TANIT was the execution of the project. The project was done and delivered in record time.”

TANIT has helped set up a training centre at LUTH to train Nigerians on the using the latest equipment available.

“We hope to use the experience and knowledge gained to expand to other hospitals across Nigeria and ensure that we have the same success stories because the country needs much more of these initiatives.”

Speaking during the summit, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at LUTH, Prof. Francis Durosinmi-Etti said there’s still a lot to do to catch up with the rest of the world. Durosinmi-Etti also noted that the increase in cancer cases could be a result of people becoming more aware of the disease.

He continued that the prevalence of the disease could be attributed to a number of factors included the environment being increasingly polluted. “The amount of fumes we have is enough to cause cancer.” A poor diet and excessive alcohol are other risk factors he said.

Nigeria may seem to be lagging behind in the fight against cancer but with projects like the cancer centre in LUTH, long-overdue succour is coming the way of patients, albeit slowly.