OrderPaperToday– As the world commemorates World Cancer Day with the theme, “I am and I will,” OrderPaperNG takes a look at steps taken by the Nigerian government to stem rising figures of deaths caused by cancer in the country, as well as initiatives by private sector players aimed at alleviating the sufferings of patients.
High casualty rates: 41,000 deaths in 2018; 182, 500 in 2019
An estimated 116,000 new cases of cancer and 41,000 cancer-related deaths were recorded in Nigeria in 2018, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Scary figures? In 2019, then minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole said cancer kills 21 Nigerians per hour or 500 persons every day, this rounds up to 182, 500 people in a year.
According to WHO, the alarming figures are hinged on increased intake of tobacco and alcohol, unhealthy lifestyles, air pollution, exposure to excessive radiation while some are caused by viruses, genetic/hereditary factors, among others.
Facts about cancer
Second leading cause of deaths in the world
Most people know cancer as a deadly terminal disease which, in its real sense, is not far from it. It is the uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells in the body that, when malignant, grow uncontrollably and destroy body tissues. These cells are harmful and spread to other tissues if not early diagnosed and treated. WHO has rated this deadly ailment as the second leading killer in the world.
It is not contagious but can form in all ages from infancy to the aged.
According to the World Health Organisation, there are over a hundred types of cancers in the world but most common cancers are breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer, melanoma of the skin, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, endometrial cancer, leukemia, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, and liver cancer, cervical cancer, among others.
Top 3 cancers that affect Nigerians
A 2014 national cancer survey revealed that breast cancer is the most dangerous of all as it kills over 40 Nigerian women daily, followed by prostate cancer which kills at least 26 Nigerian men daily and cervical cancer which causes the death of about 26 Nigerian women every day. These figures, according to experts, may have increased over the years.
On the executive level, hopes were raised when President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated an eleven million dollar ($11, 000, 000) Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) and Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) advanced Cancer Treatment Centre in Idi Araba, Lagos State on the 9th of February, 2019.
He pledged that the centre’s facilities will help in prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer and will be replicated across the country as 40% of funds spent by Nigerians on medical tourism are attributable to patients seeking treatment for cancer. This, the president hoped, would curb medical tourism and improve revenue generation for the country.
Former Health minister, Isaac Adewole, who was in attendance at the commissioning, said the centre can cater to 100 patients daily and provide training for over 80 healthcare professionals, among many others.
Another remarkable feat was recorded on October 10, 2019, when the executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Mohammed Sambo, said some levels of cancer surgeries and chemotherapy are now being covered by the scheme.
Also, the Nigerian government launched a $250 million National Cancer Control Plan for 2018-2022. The plan aims to reduce cancer prevalence and mortality rates within the said period.
On the legislative front, the 8th Senate supported the fight against cancer through passage of bills that are aimed at making more provisions for the management of cancer in the country.
These include the National Centre for Cancer Research and Treatment Bill, 2015, sponsored by the former chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa. It was passed for third reading on 31st of May, 2016, further amended on the 16th of May, 2017 and signed into law on December 29, 2017.
The Act provides a national direction in cancer research, control, and treatment, guide scientific improvements to cancer prevention treatment and care.
In the 9th assembly, a related bill was passed by the House of Representatives for second reading on September 18, 2019. It seeks to establish a cancer registry and make provision for the compilation of a statistical record of the incidence of cancer; to provide a basis for the direction of programmes for research and cancer prevention.
The bill, sponsored by Hon. Ossai Ossai who, on February 1, 2020, joined a walk to commemorate World Cancer Day which is marked February 4 of every year.
During the walk, Ossai advised Nigerians to conduct health status checkups annually. Describing the disease as a menace, he called on the federal government, through the Ministry of Health, to have data on cases reported in the country which, he noted, would be useful for effective planning.
On his bill, he said, “I believe that with a legal framework, international organisations will support this country through this channel to eradicate cancer. The bill is a way of Nigeria keeping data through the cancer centres about the type of cancers common in the country. This can assist the government to make policies to fund those areas.
“I believe that when scientists look at records and the types of cancers that are ravaging our country, we will be able to find a solution because you need to have data before you can create a policy and that is what we are trying to do”.
The bill is still under processing in the House.
How interventions, legislation have fared so far
While it appears laudable that several steps have been taken to create legal backing and provide adequate policies and equipment to tackle the terminal disease, health experts are worried that most Nigerians can still not get access to these facilities.
Notable factors that contribute to the earlier highlighted mortality rates include high cost of treatment which cuts off a high number of poor people off and deficiency of quality healthcare infrastructure.
Philips Consulting, a business and management consulting firm, reviewed the socio-economic impact of cancer in Nigeria and the result showed that the cost of cancer treatment in Nigeria remains on the high side as it ranges between N850,000 and N3,600,000.
Clamour for expansion of insurance cover for cancer patients
Worse still, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) covers less than four percent of the Nigerian population, even after several pleas for more inclusion into the scheme.
This was corroborated when OrderPaperNG interviewed Dr. Laz Eze, executive director of The Pink Oak Cancer, a cancer treatment fund platform, who said the aforementioned issues exist.
Eze, who describes himself as the number one official beggar for cancer patients, said it has been a roller-coaster ride soliciting for funds to help cancer patients as funding remains a big issue.
He said, “It has been pretty difficult, mixed feelings we have had at Pink Oak Cancer Trust. There were moments that we were excited that people were buying into the idea. We have a whole lot of Nigerians who have committed their resources, time and platforms to support the work that we do but the cancer space is a space where so many patients need help. The kind of help that we do is to offer financial support to help them treat themselves, especially those in early stages. We started with that for economic reasons only.
“If we say everybody should come, we will get overwhelmed. They are less in number but even at that, we are still struggling. As we speak now, we are out of funds. Last year, we were able to get up to 19 patients, right now we have over 15 that are eligible for this support but we do not even have money to start funding them and these are just those who have reached out to us.”
Crowdfunding is an alternative means for the platform to get help for these patients but not many Nigerians have subscribed to it, the health practitioner said.
“We are hoping on crowdfunding that so many Nigerians can even give any amount. Not so many do that. In as much as we go to events, we preach it, people will tell you to meet legislators and billionaires. I think Nigerians need to understand that when it comes to this, they only reach us when they see help but we need money to do this and we cannot manufacture money, we do not have a foreign donor.”
On the bright side, he said the non-governmental organisation has been able to amass funds from some government institutions and private individuals, out of which about 25 persons have benefited from.
“We are proud to say that all we have done so far, at least 25 patients have been supported in the past couple of years from the donations of Nigerians and Nigerian institutions. NNPC donated N10 million in 2018, some pharmaceutical companies cumulatively donated more than N40 million, among others,” Laz said.
He also touched on insurance for NHIS patients, noting that the scheme does not “capture up to 10% of the whole civil servants in Nigeria.”
Proffering solution, he urged that all cancer patients should be covered by insurance “and not just cancer patients but all Nigerians on universal health coverage. Let’s say by 2030, we want all Nigerians to be covered but let us start with those who have catastrophic health issues.”
“NHIS announced last year but they said it has been there since 2013 but the HMOs were pretending that it was not there. I have not seen any cancer patient that has benefited from the NHIS support. It does not mean it does not exist but it is just a very minute number that will benefit from it. Over 99% of cancer patients still do not have any form of support from the government,” he added.