As cancer threatens us all
The devastating damage cancer does to humanity has been spectacularly brought to the fore by the new guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO), released the other day to mark the World Cancer Day. The non-communicable disease (NCD) is now responsible for almost one in six deaths globally; and more than 14 million people develop cancer every year, a figure projected to rise to over 21 million by 2030. This is at a huge cost as health economists estimate that the total annual economic cost of cancer through healthcare expenditure and loss of productivity is $1.16 trillion (N522 trillion). More worrisome is the fact that out of about 8.8 million annual deaths from the disease, most are in the low and middle-income countries because cancer cases in these countries are diagnosed too late. The low-and middle-income countries include Nigeria, where two-thirds of cancer deaths occur. With the disease being such a major health problem in Nigeria, the time has come for all hands to be on deck for prevention or early detection with a view to making cure or proper management possible.
What is responsible for the late diagnosis? Apart from ignorance on the part of the populace, less than 30 per cent of the low-income countries have generally accessible diagnosis and treatment services, and referral systems for suspected cancer are often unavailable resulting in delayed, fragmented care or poor management. Meanwhile, the Federal Government has also noted the lack of biomedical engineering companies to fix broken cancer treatment machines with service centres in the country. These are some of the reasons anyone diagnosed of cancer sees it as a death sentence.
At the early stage, the disease is mere benign tumour, which is not problematic, but the sufferer must keep an eye on it. It is cancer when the tumour becomes malignant which is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the tendency of invading or spreading to other parts of the body. Cancer, can occur in more than one hundred different ways in the human body, and it is mainly caused by either uncalled practices or dietary risks such as tobacco smoking, incessant intake of alcoholic drinks, obesity, low fruit and vegetable consumptions, lack of physical activities, as well as certain infections like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, sexually transmitted diseases, and human papillomavirus. Some cases of cancer could also be as a result of genetic defects inherited from the parents. Some signs and symptoms of cancer include a new lump, prolonged cough, abnormal bleeding, inexplicable weight loss, a change in bowel movements, among others. While these symptoms may indicate the occurrence of cancer, they may also occur due to other medical issues.
Although, in Nigeria, government attention is more on the communicable diseases, a charity organisation, mass medical mission (mmm), is supporting the government on the National Cancer Prevention Programme (NCPP), with a public health programme initiated by the charity organisation. It started with the campaign against cervical cancer (the National Cervical Cancer Prevention Programme (NCCPP) in 2007 and was formally launched on the 18th of October, 2008. Among those leading the battle against cancer is Mrs Margaret Adetutu Adeleke, a former Chairman of Tate and Lyle, and former President of the Institute of Management who led other notable members of the Board of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) to raise huge funds, with the support of Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to purchase the first four units of Mobile Cancer Centres (MCCs) expected in the country soon. Apart from the efforts of Mrs Adeleke’s group, there are other people and non-governmental organisations who are raising funds for the prevention of cancer in Nigeria. However, there have been cases of serious gaps in the integrity of some of those people. As such, relevant government agencies should look into this, run integrity checks on those individuals and NGOs and get the security agencies to do their job where necessary.
The efforts of CECP have been relentless in cancer prevention and Governor Ambode’s commitment to the fight has been phenomenal. All the governors in the federation should emulate him.
Again, government should address the issue of lack of biomedical engineering companies to fix broken cancer treatment machines by ensuring manpower development to ensure that the appropriate personnel are readily available for the repairs and maintenance of the equipment.
While oncologists in the country should constantly go for retraining in current trends in handing cancer cases, relevant MDAs and NGOs should sensitise Nigerians on the causes of cancer and harp on early detection that enables adequate treatment of the disease. The need to go for constant cancer testing or screening, therefore, cannot be over-emphasised while the hope is that Nigeria shall celebrate a cancer-free day someday!