We commend the Federal Government’s plan to commence nationwide screening for common cancers, especially those of the cervix, breast and prostate. The free cancer screening exercise will be conducted at tertiary health institutions across the country. Eligible women will be screened for cervical and breast cancers, while men above the age of 50 will be checked for prostate cancer. About 250,000 eligible poor Nigerians who ordinarily cannot pay for the tests will be screened during the exercise.
At the inauguration of the special health intervention project in Abuja recently, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, reiterated that the initiative is to curb the increasing cases of cancer in the country. He also appealed to private sector players, including non-governmental organisations, to support the Federal Government in the exercise. Adewole equally explained that those found to have the disease will be availed early treatment to reduce the nation’s cancer burden.
Besides cancer screening, the government also intends to conduct 10,000 free cataract surgeries (250 cataract surgeries per state) as well as offer free treatment to 800 patients with confirmed diagnosis of hepatitis C infection.
As part of the special health intervention project, Adewole disclosed that 70 federal health establishments across the six geo-political zones of the country will be given N11.5 billion.
These include 21 federal teaching hospitals, 31 Federal Medical Centres (FMCs), 4 specialist hospitals and 14 fistula and cleft lip/palate centres. A breakdown of the intervention fund shows that each of the federal teaching hospitals will get N300 million, specialist hospitals, N200 million each, while the FMCs and the fistula centres will receive N120 million and N50 million respectively. Government also plans to revitalise the Primary Healthcare Centres in each of the country’s 774 local governments, and purchase anti-retroviral drugs for 20,000 eligible Nigerians.
We welcome the decision to revamp the health sector, particularly in the area of cancer detection and care. The government must strive to implement this elaborate but realisable plan. The nation’s problem has, however, never been with the making of good proposals. It is the inability to faithfully implement them that has been our undoing. Therefore, this intervention can only be adjudged worthwhile when it is properly implemented. We urge the government to make public the details of the cancer screening plan.
It is worrisome that cancer has become endemic in the country. That cancer cases are on the rise in Nigeria is stating the obvious. Latest figures show that 10,000 cancer deaths are recorded annually while 250,000 new cases occur yearly in the country. The paltry annual allocation to health despite our rising disease burden does not show that government is serious about ensuring the health of the citizens.
For the government to revamp the beleaguered health sector, there must be a considerable increase of our annual health budgets. We say this because all responsible nations allocate a lot of resources to their health sectors. This is the situation in America, Europe and, of late, some Asian countries, to which our leaders troop in search of good medical care. The only way to curb the increasing medical tourism by our leaders is to fully revitalise our ailing health sector.
Let our political leaders replicate the good medical services they enjoy abroad in the country. What is good for our leaders should also be good for the citizenry. Government must ensure the right of all Nigerians to good health services. One of the primary functions of government is to ensure the wellbeing of citizens. Ensuring their right to good health is part of that duty. Government cannot do this with only official pronouncements that are not backed with concrete plans and action to realise the set objective.
We should stop paying lip-service to the sector. There is no point playing politics with health issues. Instead of building grandiose health facilities without the requisite equipment, manpower and drugs as done by some state governors, efforts must be geared towards ensuring that the existing ones are well equipped and managed. Let all tiers of government team up to revamp our health sector.