BY LAIDE AKINBOADE
The Federal Government’s inability to procure and equip all the federal government-owned hospitals across the country with drugs, for the treatment of cancer, as well as other equipment, has been identified as a major policy flaw which has resulted in avoidable deaths.
In an exclusive interview with DAILY ASSET, Dr Uche Onwufor, who is a consultant obstetrician gynaecologist and the Executive Director, Gynae Care Research and Cancer Foundation, said that this has resulted in the death of 70,000 cancer prone patients yearly in Nigeria.
According to him, “it is sad that a rich nation like Nigeria could lose over 70,000 cancer patients, every year.”
He lamented the fact that some of those deaths could have been prevented with either vaccines or early detection and treatment.
According to him, some of the deaths can be prevented through awareness programmes and living a healthy life style.
Onwufor advised Nigerians to abstain from smoking, pointing out that about 50 types of cancers are as a result of smoking.
He further added that other preventive measures include staying away from the sun and getting vaccinated against some types of infections.
He called on the federal government to focus more on preventive measures.
On the cost of treatment, he said it is quite expensive to treat cancer, saying, “You cannot say how much it costs to treat a cancer patient because it depends on the type and level of the cancer.”
He said that the surgical treatment of a patient suffering from cervical cancer is between N300,000 and N500,000, adding that it also depends on the hospital.
According to him, drugs from India and China are less expensive than those from United States and United Kingdom, while treatments like chemotherapy and cancer treatment are expensive especially when they are not covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
Dr Onwufor disclosed that Nigeria records an annual 25,000 new cases of cancer-related diseases noting that there are seven moribund cancer centres and majority of the machines are obsolete while other machines have broken down.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, over 100,000 Nigerians are diagnosed with cancer annually, and about 80,000 die from the disease, thereby averaging 240 Nigerians every day or 10 Nigerians every hour, dying from cancer. The Nigerian cancer death ratio of 4 in 5 is one of the worst in the whole world.
The data also shows that cervical cancer that is 100% preventable kills one Nigerian woman every hour, while breast cancer kills about 40 Nigerians daily and prostate cancer kills 26 Nigerian men daily. These three common cancers alone kill 90 Nigerians daily.
Dr Onwufor said that “sequel to the few obsolete machines for the treatment of cancer in the country, many rich Nigerians travel abroad for their cancer treatment. Surgical operation for lung cancer, which is comparable to pleural cancer surgery, has an average surgery cost of $39,891.
The costs for chemotherapy can vary as well, with some estimates as high as $30,000 over an eight-week period. The average cost for an initial treatment is approximately $7,000. Expenses differ depending on the drugs, the stage of the cancer and other factors specific to each patient.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), every four out of five Nigerians die of cancer related diseases.
Some Nigerians see cancer as the disease of both the rich, the elderly and the developed countries.
Speaking in the same vein, Mr Micheal Opaleke, a retired radiographer, lamented the fact that Nigeria, with a population of over 180 million, only has few cancer centres. He described such situation as “unacceptable.”
“The few cancer centres in the country have only a few machines with no working personnel to effect their repair.
“There is need for the Federal Government to train and retrain personnel to be able to maintain the machines because most of the time, they bring the manufacturers before it can be repaired,” Opaleke observed.
On the status of cancer treatment in Nigeria, he said it was not encouraging because of the number of Nigerians that die as a result of preventable cancer and lack of required equipment.
He lamented that with the cost of cancer machines, the whooping 3.96 per cent increase in health budget in 2018 falls below expectations.
While the Federal Government in 2018 proposed budget increase by 15.74 per cent, the 2018 health budget improved by less proportion 9.5 per cent, (N32.4b), from N308.4 billion to N340.9 billion.
He, therefore, urged the Federal Government to increase budgetary allocation to the health sector.
It would be recalled that the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, at the launch and dissemination of the National Cancer Control Plan for 2018-2022, said the Federal Government would require about N93 billion to tackle the menace of cancer challenges in the country.
According to Adewole, “In 2018, we are investing in at least 8 new radiotherapy treatment centres and chemotherapy facilities across all geopolitical zones.”
He said the government is working to provide 18 LINAC machines by 2019, and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has promised to provide comprehensive cancer centres in Uyo, Akwa Ibom and Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
“The most expensive linac radiotherapy machines costs between $750,000 and $1.5million (between N228 million and N456million, at the current CBN rate), excluding associated costs such as the vault that will house the system,” he added.