The nation woke up recently to the sad news of the death by cancer of Admiral Augustus Aikhomu. The former Chief of General Staff under military President Ibrahim Babangida thus became another statistic on the rising number of death the nation continues to register due to the cancer scourge. Legal icon Gani Fawehinmi, radical medical practitioner Beko Ransome-Kuti, and former First Lady, Mrs. Maryam Babangida, were few of the numerous eminent Nigerians that have also succumbed to this health menace.
There are still thousands afflicted men and women across the country who have been knocked down by the deadly disease and presently battling for survival.
According to medical experts, cancer is becoming an important health care concern for the country. It is bad enough that the scourge is a terminal disease, it is worse that most Nigerian hospitals and medical centres lack the diagnostic capacity to quickly detect and treat cancer infections.
This has greatly compounded the problem, forcing several Nigerians to travel to countries like India, the Emirates, United Kingdom etc. in search of treatment for the disease. The economic consequence of this is that it has led to so muchcapital flight.
It is indeed curious that despite avowals by successive governments that healthcare is one of its core agenda of action, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see the impact on the citizenry even with the existence of the National Health Insurance Scheme.
The pertinent questions remain: Why can the government sufficiently equip one or two hospitals in the country to serve as cancer treatment centre of excellence? Why must Nigerians always be exposed to overseas travels in search of treatment? Why is it that a country with an estimated population of 150 million people has only six radiotherapy centres when the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation is to have one per 250,000 persons?
Further complicating the situation is the very low awareness of the scourge among Nigerians but more among women, especially rural women. The Federal Ministry of Health and the National Orientation Agency are yet to create the level of awareness that would bring sufferers to the danger of the cancer scourge. How many Nigerians for instance know that the United Nations had designated February 4th ever year as “World Cancer Day”?
Instructively, the most common types of cancer in Nigeria are carcinoma of the uterine cervix and breast for women and liver and prostate cancers for men over 40 years. But what is responsible for the growth of cancer scourge in Nigeria? Although medical experts differ somewhat as to the exact causes of the disease, there seem to be some agreement over the fact that increased rate of obesity, reduced physical activity, and more “Westernized” diets are likely contributors to the development of various types of cancer.
Put more succinctly, the major cause is the habit of the people which is not helped by government policy or lack of one. For instance, while most countries are making stringent laws against tobacco, our government seems to be encouraging it.
The burden of cancer in Nigeria is enormous. According to the WHO, there are an estimated 100,000 new cancer cases in the country each year and according to its projection the figure would have reached a new high of 500,000 annually in 2010. It is feared that by 2020, cancer incidence for Nigerian males and females may rise to 90.7/100,000 and 100.9/100,000, respectively. It is also estimated that by 2020, death rates from cancer for Nigerian males and females may reach 72.7/100,000 and 76/100,000 respectively.
All said, we believe that the task of saving its citizens from the cancer scourge remains essentially with government which has to 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 checkups so they can commence treatment of any diagnosed ailment promptly before it gets too late.