Cancer is a public health emergency. It demands adequate attention from government

The World Cancer Day was commemorated last Saturday with the theme ‘Close the care Gap: Uniting our voices and taking action’. But it was somehow muted in Nigeria despite recent reports that our country has recorded over 10, 000 new cancer cases since the beginning of this year. The revelation, made by the founder of the Medicaid Cancer Foundation and Kebbi State First Lady, Zainab-Shinkafi Bagudu, did not seem to have agitated relevant authorities. While nobody knows what has happened to the cancer fund established in 2019 by the federal government, no fewer than 78,890 cancer-related deaths were recorded in 2020, according to the president of the Nigerian Cancer Society (NSC), Adamu Alhassan Umar.    

With data showing that the cost of cancer treatment and management is not in sync with the income of most Nigerians suffering from any type of the disease, government and other stakeholders must put a framework in place to encourage early diagnosis and access to affordable treatment and management. This, it is believed, would prevent late-stage diagnosis as well as help those suffering from the scourge to get proper treatment or management without them worrying over who pays the bill.    

According to recent data, about 72 per cent of cancer patients in Nigeria pay out of pocket for their care, an action not in tandem with reality since many are unable to afford it. For instance, a mastectomy – a surgery to remove a breast – typically costs around N250,000—an amount far beyond the reach of most patients. Meanwhile, most common cancers in adults include breast (16.5%), cervical (13.1%), prostate (9.4%), colorectal (6%), and liver (4.6%), contributing to nearly half of the new cancer cases. “With significant data challenges, childhood cancer incidence in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at 56.3 per million population,” reveals the World Health Organisation (WHO). “Current projections indicate that Africa will account for nearly 50% of the global childhood cancer burden by 2050”.    

    While the alarming rate of death from cancer points to the state of healthcare in Nigeria, it is important for critical stakeholders to understand the danger the disease poses to the future of our country. It is bad enough that cancer is a terminal disease, it is worse when most Nigerian medical centres lack the diagnostic capacity to quickly detect and treat infections.Mortality is relatively higher in less developed countries like Nigeria due to the lack of access to treatment facilities, and late diagnosis. That should encourage discussions on how to fashion both preventive and curative solutions at all levels of the society.    

With the establishment of the Basic Health Care Provisions Fund (BHCPF) and health insurance schemes at both the national and state levels, the country has been tilting towards Universal Health Coverage (UCH). There is therefore a need to inculcate cancer care into all UHC programmes since poor Nigerians cannot pay out of pocket. This framework must ensure Nigerians, irrespective of location, get unfettered access to healthcare services for diagnosis, treatment, and management of cancer, while the government sets aside from the insurance pool, funding to tackle their challenges. Cancer is preventable and treatable during its early stage, and Nigerians deserve this.    

The task of saving citizens from the cancer scourge remains essentially with government which must 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 the 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 before it gets too late.  

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