As the world marked the World Cancer Day on February 4, the need for increased sensitisation and impact-driven action to bring to an end and mitigate the effects of the killer disease which prevalence has been on the increase in recent years has been the focus of global bodies, with a call on local stakeholders to do more in this regard.
While Nigeria as a country launched the National Cancer Control Plan (NCCP) in 2018, the reality on ground is that little or nothing has been done to implement the plan. This is in spite of the staggering statistics of new cases and deaths resulting from this disease.
According to 2018 statistics of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there were a total of 115,950 new cases of cancer in that year, in Nigeria, affecting 44,928 men and 71,022 women. In 2014, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) estimated that by 2030, at least 21 million people would be diagnosed with cancer and 13 million will die from the disease every year and that in the same year, 60 per cent of new cancer cases and 70 per cent of cancer-related deaths would be in developing countries, particularly in Africa.
Similarly, statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that 17 people die every minute from cancer. The United Nations agency warns that cancer rates could rise by 60 per cent over the next 20 years unless cancer care is ramped up in low and middle income countries, pointing out that less than 15 per cent of these nations offer comprehensive cancer treatment services through their public health systems, compared with more than 90 per cent among their richer counterparts.
Organised by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the World Cancer Day is a campaign built to resonate, inspire change and mobilise action long after the day has passed. Over a period of three years, beginning from 2019 to 2021 the theme for the day is “I Am And I Will.”
The WHO says the multi-year campaign offers a chance to create long-lasting impact by increasing public-facing exposure and engagement, more opportunities to build global awareness and impact-driven action and is an opportunity to rally the international community to end the injustice of preventable suffering from cancer.
As the theme suggests, everyone has a role to play in addressing the cancer burden and this can be done in many ways including working together to reduce cancer risk factors, overcoming barriers to early diagnosis, treatment and palliative care as well as working together to improve cancer control and achieving global targets to reduce premature mortality from cancer.
Some proven interventions as identified by the WHO include controlling tobacco use, which is responsible for a quarter of all cancer deaths; vaccinating against hepatitis B to prevent liver cancer; and eliminating cervical cancer by vaccinating against HPV.
A day such as this should serve as a wake-up call to all of us to tackle cancer in all of its ramifications. It is a sad reality that in Nigeria today, most hospitals lack the facilities for early detection and treatment of the deadly cancers. A consequence of this is capital flight in the form of medical tourism as most people of means afflicted with the disease have to travel outside the country to seek treatment.
It is our view that if more people have access to primary health care and health facilities are equipped with diagnostic equipment for early detection of cancer, those who are found to be afflicted would be treated effectively and cured.
Elsewhere in the world, there have been advances in cancer research over the past five decades, leading to a reduction in deaths and many high-income countries have adopted prevention, early diagnosis and screening programmes, in addition to better treatment, which have together, contributed to an estimated 20 per cent reduction in the probability of premature mortality. Nigeria cannot afford to be left out while citizens continue to die, even as cancer has been proven not to be a death sentence.
While the responsibility for personal health lies first with the citizen, government has a role to play by using its machinery to sensitise the populace on causative factors and what they can do to keep the disease at bay, in addition to strengthening laws such as tobacco control laws as well as improving health care systems in the country for early diagnosis and treatment.