The Cancer Education and Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CEAFON) is leading a crusade to halt the increasing incidence of mortality from cancer, especially breast cancer, in Nigeria. The Foundation recently organised a two-day cancer summit in Abuja sponsored by Roche Products Limited, during which stakeholders pondered on strategies to adopt to tame the disease in Nigeria.
The summit, held in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health, from 28 to 29 October was themed: “Stop Breast Cancer from taking Her Life.” It was used by stakeholders to assess major challenges of awareness, diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer in Nigeria.
Speaking at a pre-summit media parley, Prof. Francis A. Durosinmi- Etti, president of CEAFON, bemoaned the present state of cancer care in Nigeria, noting that breast cancer, for women in Nigeria, had become a form of death sentence because of the inability of the nation to provide the required care, adding that more women were dying of cancer in Nigeria. The respected oncologist, while noting that a lot could be done to reverse the unfortunate trend, posited that collective action of all Nigerians was required to end deaths of Nigerian women from breast cancer.
On challenges hindering cancer prevention and treatment, Prof. Durosinmi-Etti lamented that Nigeria not only lacks adequate information and data to drive cancer control policies but also lacks the required number of treatment centres and experts (oncologists) to drive the process of providing the appropriate treatment patients need.
He disclosed that while Nigeria needs a minimum of 500 cancer treatment centres to cater for its huge population, only two cancer centres are presently working out of the ten existing ones. Those two centres, located in the National Hospital Abuja and Uthman Dan Fodiyo University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto, cannot cater for the many patients that require treatment, he observed.
It is indeed quite sad that cancer treatment for Nigerian women suffering from the disease is so difficult to procure as a result of the inadequacy in the number of treatment centres. While what is happening to cancer control efforts is not limited to cancer as other disease conditions are not faring better, it is however quite painful that we are in this pathetic situation.
It is unacceptable that despite heightened awareness campaigns on breast cancer, with women being urged to go for screening to ensure early detection of the disease, the country has no capacity to provide respite through prompt and quality care for those discovered to have the condition. This, of course, is why many Nigerians with the disease are forced to travel abroad, especially to India, for treatment.
As it has been established in developed climes, it is indeed possible to decrease cancer mortality. What is required is the collective action advocated for by Prof. Durosinmi- Etti. This is one health condition that the private sector can and indeed should assist in combating, as it seems the Nigerian government is unable to singlehandedly provide treatment succor for patients who need it. The government must however urgently come up with a set of national cancer treatment guidelines, formulated not just to fast-track the process of dealing with peculiar challenges preventing proper cancer control but also primed to tame cancer despite the peculiar socio-economic situation of the control.
Breast cancer will not just stop killing Nigerian women because we don’t have the capacity to effectively deal with it; it will only stop when pragmatic measures that have proven effective in other climes are adhered to, and I dare say that it will only stop when all Nigerians join forces with CEAFON and other stakeholders to holistically tame cancer, and breast cancer, in particular. It is doable.