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Proffering solutions to cancer scourge

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The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole


The scourge of cancer treatment in Nigeria can be described as appalling due to the numerous challenges that surrounds it. These include the cost of drugs, diagnosis,late presentation, inadequate basic research and clinical application, and poor data representation.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the recent alarm on rising global incidence of cancer has become a thing of worry for the nation, hence the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole endorsed and recommended the National Cancer Control Plan (2018 – 2022) to reduce this scourge. Adewole, who is also an oncologist stressed that the NCCP is government’s commitment to safeguarding the health of Nigerians in the case of cancer because unlike most other disease conditions, it is complicated by psychological, social, economic and emotional consequences.

In Nigeria, about 10,000 cancer deaths are recorded annually while 250,000 new cases are recorded yearly. It is also worrisome that only 17 percent of African countries are said to have sufficiently funded cancer control programmes.Describing the Cancer Control Plan as a product of extensive cross-sectoral collaboration with the government, academia, bilateral and multilateral organizations and civil society, he said the implementation of the plan would chart the pathway necessary to making Nigerians healthy.

Adewole harped on advocacy and social mobilisation as a way of reducing the burden of cancer in Nigeria. “With Nigeria signing and adopting a political declaration of the United Nations high level meeting on the prevention and control of Non communicable disease, the ground is ripe for an immediate action and advocacy for change through various forms of persuasive communication to create an environment conducive for improving cancer awareness, encouraging early presentation, reducing barriers to cancer control, developing a comprehensive cancer advocacy plan and allocating necessary resources for priority interventions to reduce the cancer burden in Nigeria,” the Minister added.

To further cushion the scourge, he said, the five-year plan also aim at increasing the number of skilled healthcare practitioners in cancer care by 15 per cent annually.
Meanwhile, President, BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), Jennifer Dent, said cancer is curable if presented early, while the necessary drugs and care is provided on time. Dent, who disclosed this during an interview with the Guardian, said cancer care, can be upgraded if the focus is shifted to non communicable disease that have often been neglected.

In her words: “Preventing cervical cancer that is prevalent is made easier if mass vaccination program is targeted at adolescent girls and continued. Cervical cancer will be eradicated in no time in the country”.

She noted that cancer in Africa is characterised by late presentation, poor treatment outcomes, and delays in access to cancer treatment, which result in 80-90 per cent of cases that are in an advanced stage at the point of presentation.

According to Dent, the partnership programme with the Ministry of Health is part of the African Access Initiative (AAI) is aimed at ensuring access to affordable and sustainable cancer medicines and treatment in Nigeria.The BVGH, a non-profit global health organisation that launched the African Access Initiative (AAI) to focus on enabling and providing access to affordable, accessible cancer drugs technologies in African countries.

Dent noted that the needs assessment was initiated in June 2017 in 15 hospitals to determine their priorities towards improving cancer treatment had been eight reports already and subsequently submitted their findings to the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole two weeks ago.She added that the organisation recently expanded its attention toward engaging the biopharmaceutical industry in programs and partnerships to ensure patients in low income countries have access to proper diagnosis, treatment, and healthcare for non-communicable diseases with an initial focus on cancer.

The BVGH President explained that the baseline assessment is to collate information about how the hospitals are currently managing cancer treatment, how many patients present, how many diagnosed and treated, radiotherapy, diagnostic and infrastructure capacity and also to determine if pre-cancer medicine is affordable and assessable.

Describing the assessment as a grass root programme, Dent said the information collated is to determine and meet the pressing needs of the selected hospitals.This, she added would be in alignment with the Ministry of Health Cancer Control Plan for the next five years.“We have the result from eight hospitals already which will allow us prioritise the major need and provide the necessary lab technology diagnosis. In addition to the drugs and laboratory technology that is in high demand, we are facilitating training and capacity building by partnering with other international bodies to increase the skills of Nigeria oncologists. Training for the Ministry and hospitals in cancer surgery is a priority”, she said.

According to report from the eight hospitals, Dent cost and unavailability of drugs for the patients as a challenge that needs urgent intervention.“Across the board, the findings are the same that patients pay for drugs, which are not readily available in the hospital. That is, the patients have no sustainable access to the medicines at affordable and consistent price in the pharmacy. We also discover the need to accurately diagnose patients.

“For breast cancer treatment, one must accurately diagnose the kind of tumour that is presented to ascertain the exact treatment needed. Wrong diagnosis has overtime led to time and resources wastage; hence, diagnostic technology is necessary. We have placed our first laboratory equipment from Pfizer to the Ondo State Teaching Hospital” she said.

On recommendations, Dent emphasised that the organisation is forming a strong partnership between the Ministry and companies that supply cancer drugs to drastically reduce the cost of drugs and make it available.

“All forms of media, and private firms should assist in purpose driven campaign that would reinforce information needed by the public and encourage people to report any abnormal growth.

BVGH is a results-oriented non-profit organization based in Seattle, Washington, US whose mission is to engage private industry in global health initiatives. BVGH engages global health stakeholders in partnerships to accelerate the development of new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics that address the unmet medical needs of the developing world. Working at the crossroads of the biopharmaceutical industry and global health, BVGH creates customized programs that fit the needs and capacity of partners and impact health in measurable ways


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