“Our vision is to reduce the mortality rate of breast cancer in Nigeria by offering adequate information and service to combat the disease” – Ebunola Anozie
The mere mention of cancer sends an unpleasant chill to many. The deadly and devastating disease has dispatched thousands of Nigerians to their early graves. It is a respecter of no one, and strikes its victims irrespective of affluence, age, race and gender.
At least 72,000 Nigerians are said to die from various forms of cancer annually. Though the disease is non-communicable, it can start from any part of the human body and spread to surrounding tissues, causing havoc anywhere it touches. But breast cancer has remained the most common of all types of cancers.
Going down memory lane, some prominent Nigerians that lost the battle to the dreaded ailment include the wife of former President Ibrahim Babangida, Maryam, who died from ovarian cancer on December 27, 2009; Olusola Saraki, who died on November 14, 2012; Clara Oshiomhole, wife of the former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, from breast cancer on December 7, 2010; music legend, Sunny Okosun, from colon cancer on May 24, 2008; legal luminary, Gani Fawehinmi, from lung cancer on September 5, 2009; former minister of information and erstwhile director-general of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Dora Akunyili, on June 7, 2014; renowned medical doctor, Beko Ransome-Kuti, from lung cancer, on February 10, 2006 ;and the founder and chairman of The Guardian newspaper, Alex Ibru, on November 20, 2011.
In finding an enduring solution to the cancer scourge, many have advocated the need for the Federal Government to establish comprehensive cancer care centres across the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria. There has also been continuous awareness on early detection, sensitisation and free screenings by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government and other support groups.
The founder and CEO of the first breast cancer awareness network in Nigeria, Care, Organisation and Public Enlightenment (COPE), Mrs. Ebunola Anozie, told Daily Sun that despite the discoveries and clinical advances across the world to tackle the disease, Nigeria still wallows in ignorance, medical infrastructural decay and government’s negligence, to the detriment of the people. She said that the health care system in the country was comatose and leaves much to be desired.
Decrying the dilapidated facilities in the sector and dearth of experts, she called for an overhauling of the entire health care system. She lamented that decades of neglect by successive administrations had punctured the sector and set it on the path of perpetual retrogression. She said wrong diagnosis, poor attitude of medical workers to patients and wrong dietary habits were fuelling mortality.
Anozie asserted that the lack of modern equipment, unaffordable anti-cancer drugs, non-existence and persistent breakdown of the few existing radiotherapy machines in most government-owned hospitals were the factors responsible for the continuous medical tourism and exodus of health professionals abroad. She regretted that most of the best Nigerian oncologists were practising abroad.
She urged government to increase budgetary allocation to the health sector, saying that non-communicable diseases, including cancer, were depleting Nigeria’s human resources and leaving behind scars and sad tales of a failed state. She said government’s continuous promise to use political will to address health care issues had become a mere cliché that was never backed up with actions.
She stated that cancer was never a death sentence and curable, especially with early detection, management and right treatment.
Anozie said: “Even those patients who are lucky to be diagnosed early are not treated in time due to long queues and poor access to proper treatment, therefore, leading to high mortality rate. These queues are at private hospitals because the radiotherapy machines at government hospitals have since broken down and been abandoned. I have never seen a healthcare system that continues to deteriorate as we have in Nigeria. Right now, people are scared of going to the hospital to get themselves treated because the patient might be misdiagnosed or treated shabbily, or there is simply a lack of facilities for proper care.
“We all know that while using the linear accelerator, power supply must not blink but there was no backup for years in our government hospital. I have seen people travel to Ghana and other countries to have their radiotherapy done. All the machines are broken down here and government does nothing about it. But how many people can afford to travel abroad for medical care?
“Except the government does something very urgently to rescue the health care sector, we are heading for danger in this country. We have been doing this same thing and getting same result as a country for years. I don’t think the government places any premium on the lives of Nigerians. The total budget for health is abysmal. Without good health, nothing better can be achieved in this country.” She recalled how her late father was badly managed 23 years ago. She said when her family later flew him abroad, the doctor abroad demanded the name of the Nigerian doctor that handled and damaged his skin almost beyond restoration. She said her father was so badly burnt that the poor man had to undergo a separate surgery abroad.
“Some years ago, a young girl of 13 years came to me. She had breast lumps and the doctor performed a surgery on her. But, unfortunately and painfully, they removed her nipple in the process. You could imagine how she would breastfeed her babies.
“There was another lady that was diagnosed of cancer and we advised her not to get pregnant as she continued her treatment but she refused. When she later returned years later, her illness had deteriorated beyond reversal and she died,” Anozie said in tears.
She said she was ready, through her NGO founded in 1995, to expend every strength in her to ensure that the number of people that succumb to the scourge was reduced to the barest minimal. In achieving this, she said her NGO has embarked on free breast ultra sound scan screening with the support of corporate organisations.
“Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women. It is important for every woman to examine her breasts regularly.
“COPE has launched a ‘wall of fame’. The reason we created the wall in our office at Ikeja is to create and expand the needed awareness on breast cancer ailment. The idea behind the wall is that an organisation contributes N1 million annually. This N1 million takes care of 333 women to have ultra sound scan and clinical examination. We give out vouchers to the organisations who pay the money, who give them to their clients, who in turn come here for free screening every third Saturday of the month.
“This will take us a step closer to achieving our aim of reducing breast cancer mortality rate. Women will have equal opportunity to get screened regardless of their location and socio-economic status. Early detection is cheaper. Women who fall outside the organisations that have partnered with us can also have their thorough screening done here for as little as N3,000.
“Our vision is to reduce the mortality rate of breast cancer in Nigeria by offering adequate information and service to combat the disease and make treatment affordable to all Nigerians irrespective of financial status.
“Apart from being conscious of what we eat, we must exercise every day and reduce intake of sugary drinks. A heart of forgiveness is also important in preventing many diseases. Then government must establish research centres where traditional medicines can be promoted. All the plants were created for a purpose and Nigeria is blessed with them as deposited in different parts of the country,” Anozie said.
The crusader appealed to pharmaceutical companies, governments and multinational companies to assist breast cancer patients in their treatment. She stressed that treating cancer was very expensive, running into millions of naira, and often beyond the reach of most patients.