Nigerians diagnosed with cancer are in serious danger. All the radiation treatment machines are out of use in various parts of the country. Out of the eight radiotherapy machines procured by the Federal Government over 10 years ago and distributed to seven states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), none is functioning at present. It is not clear how many of about nine Linear Accelerators (LINAC) believed to be owned by private hospitals are working. Most cancer patients cannot afford to patronise private hospitals because of prohibitive cost of such hospitals. The few government hospitals that would have been available to such patients are now unable to treat people in dire need of immediate medical attention.
Commenting on what has become periodic problems of guaranteeing radiotherapy for a population of about two million people diagnosed with cancer in the country, the Chief Medical Director of Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos, Prof. Chris Bode, said: “The radiotherapy machine in question has exhausted its lifespan, but we are not relenting in keeping it functional. But we need to understand that out of seven radiotherapy machines procured during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration about 12 years ago under the VAMED hospital equipment refurbishing project, LUTH’s radiotherapy machine is the only one still standing in the whole country … On a normal day, we treat over 100 patients. Ideally LUTH should have about three to six radiotherapy machines but we are left with a 12-year-old machine that has exhausted its lifespan.”
Similarly, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, has confirmed that Nigeria has too few radiotherapy machines to meet the needs of its population of cancer patients: “We don’t have enough (machines) to go round but we are working hard to address that gap. There was a cancer machine in the National Hospital for three years and it was in a crate but it was only when this administration came in that we were able to install it, so you should praise this administration.”
Obviously, there are multiple factors for the dearth of radiotherapy machines in the country. The few machines available are overused and thus break down intermittently. Constant power failures cause periodic breakdown of cancer treatment machines. In addition, the cost of repairing such machines is prohibitive, and most importantly, there are no biomedical engineering companies in the country to service radiotherapy machines, thus leaving the country to fly in foreign experts.
We believe none of these problems should be insurmountable for any country that respects the humanity of its citizens. For example, Morocco with a population of 30 million has 28 LINACs while Nigeria with six times the population of Morocco has a total of 18 LINACs, with about half currently out of use and the nine in private hospitals too prohibitive for the average Nigerian. Governments across the country should feel ashamed that they have made a culture of pretending that lives of citizens matter to them while looking away from those denied of urgent medical attention for the most painful disease.
Even if the eight radiotherapy machines owned by the Federal Government are working regularly and efficiently, they are far too few to cater for the country’s citizens diagnosed with cancer. In a country where the National Health Insurance Scheme (NIHS) does not cover cancer patients and with no free or subsidised medical treatment for citizens, governments at all levels appear to be derelict in their duties when they fail to plan to ensure that cancer patients are not put in danger unnecessarily. Promising after 12 years to solve this problem through PPP or through a special initiative illustrates utter disregard for citizens’ health and wellbeing. And there is no better government to solve this problem immediately than the Buhari administration voted to bring change to the country.
We call on our governments to realise that majority of Nigerians cannot afford to rush abroad for treatment, the way government leaders and those close to them usually do. We remind the Federal Government in particular of its duty to fix not only broken down cancer machines immediately but to also find ways to collaborate with the private sector to procure machines that are commensurate with the needs of the population. In addition, with over 100 universities there is no excuse for not having biomedical engineers to fix radiotherapy machines. Only callous leaders would leave their citizens to suffer, as cancer patients in the country currently do.