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All the critical stakeholders could do more to stem the scourge

Nigeria, according to the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) 2023 factsheet, has a population of 60.9 million women from age 15 who are at risk of developing cervical cancer. “Current estimates indicate that every year 12,075 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 7,968 die from the disease” going by their statistics that should worry health authorities in the country. Although incidence of cancer has been on the increase in many regions of the world, mortality is relatively higher in less developed countries like Nigeria due to the lack of access to treatment facilities, and late diagnosis, among others.  

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates the top five commonest types of cancers in Nigeria as breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and liver cancer in the order. These cancer types and the other less common kill about 80,000 Nigerians every year. 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, the 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 without them worrying over who pays the bill.  

 Available records indicate that 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, breast surgery typically costs around N250,000—an amount far beyond the reach of most patients.  

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. 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 cancer infections. That should encourage discussions on how to fashion both preventive and curative solutions at all levels of the society.  

It is good the country’s healthcare system is tilting towards Universal Health Coverage (UCH) with the establishment of the Basic Health Care Provisions Fund (BHCPF) and health insurance schemes at both the national and state levels. There is 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.  

We believe that the task of saving its 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 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 before it gets too late.  

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