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On national cancer control


February 4 every year is World Cancer Day, a day set aside for governments, organisations and individuals around the world to unite and raise awareness about cancer; and work to make it a global health priority. It unites the world’s population in the fight against cancer and is commemorated globally by millions of people.

The non-communicable disease (NCD) is now responsible for almost one in six deaths globally; and more than 14 million people develop cancer every year, a figure projected to rise to over 21 million by 2030.

This is at a huge cost as health economists estimate that the total annual economic cost to societies of cancer through healthcare expenditure and loss of productivity is about $1.16 trillion (N522 trillion).

More worrisome is the fact that out of about 8.8 million annual deaths from the disease, most are in the low and middle-income countries because cancer cases in these countries are diagnosed too late.

The low- and middle-income countries include Nigeria, where two thirds of cancer deaths occur. With the disease being such a major health problem in Nigeria, all hands must be on deck for prevention or early detection with a view to making cure and management possible.

What is responsible for the late diagnosis? Apart from ignorance on the part of the populace, World Health Organisation, WHO says that less than 30 per cent of low-income countries have generally accessible diagnosis and treatment services, and referral systems for suspected cancer are often unavailable resulting in delayed and fragmented care/poor management.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has also decried the absence of biomedical engineering companies to fix broken cancer treatment machines with service centres in the country.

At the early stage, the disease is mere benign tumour, which is not problematic, but the person must keep an eye on it. It is cancer when the tumour becomes malignant, becoming a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the tendency of invading or spreading to other parts of the body.

Cancer can occur in more than 100 different ways in the human body, and it is mainly caused by either uncalled practices or dietary risks such as tobacco smoking, incessant intake of alcoholic drinks, obesity, low fruit and vegetable consumptions, lack of physical activities, as well as certain infections like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, sexually transmitted diseases, and human papillomavirus.

Some cases of cancer could also be as a result of genetic defects inherited from the parents. Some signs and symptoms of cancer include a new lump, prolonged cough, abnormal bleeding, unexplained weight loss, a change in bowel movements, radiation, use of bleaching creams, among others. While these symptoms may indicate the occurrence of cancer, they may also occur due to other medical issues.

The theme for World Cancer Day 2016-2018 was ‘We can. I can.’ – meaning everyone collectively or as individuals has a part to play in order to reduce the global burden of cancer. Essentially, as cancer affects everyone in different ways, everyone has the power to take actions to reduce the impact that cancer has on individuals, families and communities.

A charity organisation, National Cancer Prevention Programme (NCPP) inaugurated four pilot Mobile Cancer Centres (MCC) in Lagos, the first of its kind anywhere in the world to screen and treat people for cancers.

The Federal Government recently unveiled a new Radiotherapy machine at National Hospital Abuja (NHA) to provide easy access to radiation treatment for Nigerians; and another new machine donated by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO) is already within the country and would be operational at NHA in the next few months. Similarly, the facility at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) should be offering full and uninterrupted service by June 2018.

Also, on Friday, February 9, the FGN launched a four-year action plan on cancer known as the National Cancer Control Plan (2018-2022) as part of activities marking World Cancer Day 2018. The Lagos State government has also been in the forefront of the fight with cash and machine donations.

Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment (Establishment) Act, 2017. With the Institute, Nigeria has an opportunity to collectively re-examine her cancer control interventions and strategies and identify the winning ones. So, it is hoped that scientists in the Institute will find a cure for cancer by embarking on ground-breaking researches.

Organisations like Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) deserve commendation for their giant strides in fighting cancer. Again, government should address the issue of lack of biomedical engineering companies to fix broken cancer treatment machines by manpower development to ensure that the appropriate personnel are readily available for the repairs and maintenance of the machines; while oncologists in the country should constantly be sent for retraining to reskill in current trends in handling cancer cases.

In addition, relevant MDAs and NGOs should sensitize Nigerians on the causes of cancer and harp on early detection that enables adequate eradication of the disease from the patient, hence the need to go for constant cancer testing or screening.

So, it is heart-warming that the Federal Government is committed to rolling out nationwide screening for breast and cervical cancer in women and prostate cancer among men in 2018 and citizens should take advantage of this service.

Communities should inspire and take action to prevent cancer by creating healthy schools, workplaces and cities; and individuals should make healthy lifestyle choices. And all should know that early detection saves live. It is hoped that someday, Nigeria shall celebrate a cancer-free day!

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