‘Cancer patients need government’s subsidy’
BY NGOZI OBOH
The arrival of Onyedika Onyeagba to the family of Rose and Raphael Onyeagba was a long awaited dream come true for the couple. They have had three girls and were excited that the addition of a male child to family will strike a balance to the gender equation.
But their joy was to last only for short while. Six months after the birth of Onyedika, he developed problems with his right eyes. Efforts were made to contact Ophthalmologists who attempted a cure but no changes were made. It was at a private hospital in Onitsha, Anambra State that he was diagnosed of cancer.
After two years of struggling to save his life at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, he died at age 2. This was not until the family had spent its entire savings on treatment and was left with nothing to cater for the three girls. The couple was petty traders at the time.
Another cancer patient Obinna Okafor was diagnosed of cancer of the blood. He also died after few years of struggling with his health. His surviving parents said there was nothing else left as they spent all fortunes trying to save his life. The family could not afford to buy a pint of blood recommended by the doctor and he died because there was nothing else left in the coffers of his aging parents.
These are some of the experiences of families that have cancer patients.
Cancer is the result of uncontrolled cell growth. The human body composed of trillions of cells working together. When someone has cancer, one of these cells stops paying attention to the normal signals that tell cells to grow, stop growing or even dies.
The federal ministry of health said there are 350, 000 new cases of cancer diagnosed every year in Nigeria and that it is rising to the challenges but more needs to be done especially for treatment of cancer patients.
Treatment of cancer in Nigeria
Patience Osinubi, National Coordinator of Cancer Control programme of the ministry of health said it costs fortune to treat cancer patients. “The challenge remains for treatment. It is very expensive every where in the world,” she said.
According to her, it costs over N800, 000 to treat a single cancer case that is detected early.
“I think if you want to treat cancer to the point of remediation, from the point they found it to the point of getting the patient live for some more years, we are looking at not less than N800,000.
“Not everybody can afford it. Some families sell everything. It is a terrible burden. We have to ensure we do not have new comers.”
Mrs. Osinubi also added that the National Health Insurance Scheme covers mammography, mastectomy but does not cover treatment for cancer, so there is the need to explore other means of addressing the scourge of cancer.
Most treatments of cancers have either of the following components: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or combination of treatments. These are expensive.
Patients with cancers that cannot be cured by surgery usually will get combination therapy.
The World Health Organization has projected that cancer deaths will continue to rise with an estimated 9 million people dying from cancer in 2015 and 11.4 million dying in 2030. About 70 per cent of those deaths will be recorded in developing countries including Nigeria.
Inadequate manpower and equipment for treat the disease
Linus Awute, permanent Secretary of the ministry of health disclosed that the commonest cancers in Nigeria are breast and cervical in women, prostrate and colon cancers in men but there is inadequate manpower and machinery to tackle the scourge.
For example there is only one radiotherapy machine for 20 million people, the manpower to man the machineries are not in place, while new machineries are yet to be procured.
“Some of you have reported the challenge of one radiotherapy machines to 20 million people,” said Mr Awute.
He said the federal ministry of health is in a technical agreement with the international atomic energy agency to procure ten radiotherapy and twenty one nuclear medicine equipment for diagnosis and treatment of cancers but the equipments are yet to arrive in the country.
“The challenges of inadequate manpower necessitated the federal ministry of health to organize several local training courses for improve the knowledge and skill oh health care providers treating cancer.
“In view of the urgent need for increased knowledge that will assist us in the maximum utilization of these technologies eight doctors, twenty one pharmacists, twenty nurses are about to commence specialist training in the use of these equipment abroad.”
But Nigerians will continue to ebb away on daily basis due to threat of cancer until the equipment arrives and the health workers complete their training.
Government should subsidize treatment for cancer
Participants at a workshop on cancer prevention held recently in Abuja believe that money should be set aside by the government to assists Nigerians suffering from cancer.
Idris Omeje, president of the Nigerian medical association said this has been provided for in the health bill currently awaiting an approval by President Goodluck Jonathan.
“Some sections of the health bill provided for a kind subsidy for cancer patients. If the bill is approved and we have the health act in place, patients suffering from cancer will be getting some assistant from the government,” he said.
But while awaiting the approval of health bill, the federal ministry of health said it will continue to increase advocacy for cancer awareness
Taking the messages to rural areas
The federal ministry of health according to Mr. Awute is mapping out a strategic road map to curb the disease with a 5- year cancer control plan in line with the national strategic health development plan.
“The control strategy in the plan includes aggressive cancer awareness at the grassroot communities in several states in the six geo political zones.”
Mrs Osinubi also reiterated that that considering the endemic nature of the disease there is the need to educate the rural populace of some preventive and control measures to need to take in order to take in addressing the scourge.
“The ministry has plans to take cancer awareness campaign to the 774 local governments of this country,” she said. “This is in partnership with the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON.”
On how the partnership will work, Mrs. Osinubi stated that the ministry will train some health workers of the local government of cancer screening procedure and provide the equipment required in addition while the local governments will provide the sites for screening.
The campaign she said will commence in September this year. “This is to provide necessary logistics and ensure the programme is sustainable in the rural areas after the campaign. “
Mr. Awute said some of the incontrovertible information to prevent that they will be disseminating to the public will include “the need for increased physical activity at least thirty minutes of exercise daily, reduction in body weight, reduced sugar intake.”
Others are that “healthy fat free, balanced diet is a must; increased intake of natural fruits and vegetable will reduce cancer; most importantly regular cancer screening will save lives.”