As Nigerians continue to grapple with severe economic challenges, cancer seems to be wreaking more havoc. There are indications that four out of five sufferers currently die of the scourge. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 80,000 out of 100,000 Nigerians diagnosed with the disease yearly end up dying, making the country the worst-hit in the whole of Africa. The statistics on the cancer epidemic are troubling: about 30 Nigerian women are believed to die daily of breast cancer, which can be cured if detected early.
A Nigerian woman is also said to die every hour of cervical cancer, even though this form of cancer, like the one that affects the colon, can be prevented. Similarly, 14 Nigerian men die daily of prostate cancer, whereas it can be cured if detected early. Worse still, a Nigerian is said to die every hour of liver cancer, which experts confirm is preventable through vaccination. Certain habits and lifestyles like excessive alcohol consumption, extreme body weight, smoking, superstition and exposure to the sun, paint and asbestos chemicals, in the case of albinos, make people vulnerable to the disease. But the stumbling block to curbing it is the laissez-faire attitude of those in authority, epitomised by poor public awareness and lack of access to diagnosis and treatment.
None of the radiotherapy machines in the seven cancer treatment centres in Nigeria is said to be working effectively. Therefore, patients often queue up at the hospitals for radiotherapy even at odd hours, with some having to sell their properties to defray the high cost of treatment and medication. Gombe and Oyo are said to be the only states in the country with facilities for treating cancer.
Given the foregoing, an aggressive and sustained campaign on the causes and dangers posed by the scourge is critical, lest it wreaks further havoc on the nation. The frontal attack on the disease must include investigating all cases, preventing the disease, where possible; ensuring early detection and providing optimal management and screening. The government must establish more cancer treatment centres across the country, while collaborating with international organisations, especially in the area of logistics. As reiterated by the pioneer Chief Medical Director of the National Hospital, Abuja, Professor Francis Durosinmi-Etti, 40 per cent of cancer cases can be prevented if people are conscious of their habits and lifestyle, just as 40 per cent can be cured if detected early.
The cancer scourge deserves a quick and effective plan of action. The government must hearken to the demand by experts that cancer screening and treatment be integrated into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to relieve victims of the huge cost of treatment. Surely, this cannot be too difficult to do.