As a result of high cancer mortality rate in the country, the Federal Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, recently endorsed the National Cancer Control Plan (NCCP) aimed specifically to reduce the scourge. The NCCP, according to the minister, is government’s commitment to safeguard the health of Nigerians from cancer, stressing that the intervention has become necessary because unlike most other disease conditions, cancer is complicated by psychological, social, economic and emotional consequences.
The NCP is a product of extreme cross-cultural collaboration with the government, academic, bilateral and multilateral organisations and civil society groups. The five-year plan also aims at increasing the number of skilled healthcare practitioners in cancer care by 15 per cent annually.
Recent statistics on the disease show that Nigeria records about 10,000 cancer deaths annually while 259,000 new cases are recorded yearly. Only 17 per cent of African countries have sufficiently funded cancer control programmes. According to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) Nigeria, 30 Nigerian women die every day of breast cancer; one Nigerian woman dies every hour of cervical cancer; 14 Nigerian men die daily of prostate cancer; one Nigerian dies every hour of liver cancer and one Nigerian dies every two hours of colon cancer. Similarly, the National Coordinator of CECP, Dr. Abia Nzelu, says that out of every five Nigerians with cancer, only one survives. Also, a consultant oncologist and radiotherapist at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, Prof. Ifeoma Okoye, affirms that Nigeria has the worst cancer mortality rate in Africa as four out of every five patients die from the disease. Three common cancers that affect Nigerians are cervical cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. Altogether, they kill about 90 Nigerians daily. Government must do something urgently to reverse the alarming cancer narrative in the country.
We decry the rising cancer deaths in Nigeria and applaud the government for initiating the cancer control plan. We urge the government to ensure that the plan is fully implemented. The government’s plan to train more oncologists to man the cancer centres is in order. There is no doubt that we need more oncologists to handle the increasing cases of cancer in the country. Government should improve the working conditions of medical doctors, including the cancer specialists, to discourage the brain drain in the health sector.
While a few Nigerian oncologists work in the country, about 220 Nigerian oncologists reportedly work in the Diaspora. Let all tiers of government be part of the plan to halt cancer deaths in the country. Government should create public awareness on the disease, the causative factors as well as preventive measures. Cancer is not a death sentence. Since early detection is key to surviving the scourge, Nigerians should be encouraged to go for cancer screening once a year.
With the rising cancer cases in the country, it has become expedient for the government to increase the number of cancer centres in the country because the available ones are not enough for our rising population. This calls for adequate funding of the health sector. The government’s current lip service to the sector must stop. Since health is wealth, a healthy nation is a wealthy nation. The government must invest more on the health of the citizenry.
We, therefore, call for the establishment of more cancer screening and treatment centres across all the senatorial districts of the country. Let the cancer centres be well equipped so that the medical tourism to India and other countries for cancer treatment can be a thing of the past. The public and private sectors should collaborate to address the disease. All stakeholders in the health sector must work in concert to ensure that the cancer menace is curbed. Above all, let government subsidise cancer treatment for women, children and the aged.