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Improving cancer diagnosis, treatment in Nigeria with PPP model

By Chukwuma Muanya
13 May 2021   |   3:00 am
As part of efforts to facilitate improvements in healthcare delivery in Nigeria, enhance foreign exchange conservation and reduce medical tourism, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)

As part of efforts to facilitate improvements in healthcare delivery in Nigeria, enhance foreign exchange conservation and reduce medical tourism, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on March 25, 2020, issued a circular to Deposit Money Banks and the general public on guidelines for the operations of the N100 billion credit support for the healthcare sector.

The aim was to strengthen the sector’s capacity to meet a potential increase in the demand for healthcare products and services. Specifically, the scheme provides credit to indigenous pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare value-chain players who intend to build or expand capacity.

The CBN’s credit support for Nigeria’s health sector through the Deposit Money Banks (DMBs), could be described as a progressive initiative that has been leveraged by many forward-thinking entrepreneurs’, to deliver facilities across the healthcare value chains in the country – one of which is the world-class cancer centre known as Marcelle Ruth Cancer Center (MRCC) and Specialist Hospital – arguably, the first of its kind in Nigeria and sub-Sahara Africa and fully equipped with up-to-date, end-to-end one-stop facilities that compete favourably with those in developed countries.

The centre houses an imaging centre with CT; mammogram; ultrasound; X-Ray machines; modern laboratory services; two operating theatres; an eight-bed chemotherapy suite; a radiotherapy centre with a linear accelerator and brachytherapy, fifteen private en-suite rooms for in-patients; pharmacy and counselling service.

It is expected that as a result of this development, Nigerians will no longer have reasons to travel out of the country to seek medical attention and care, especially on cancer-related and other special health issues.

Stakeholders say the partnership between Polaris Bank and Marcelle Ruth offers a worthy example of the advancement of sustainable cancer treatment in Nigeria.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), with about 70 per cent of all cancer deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries, cancer has become a significant source of morbidity and mortality—a leading cause of death worldwide. In an all-too-common scenario in Nigeria, many patients and their families, particularly low-income earners, say they regard a cancer diagnosis as a death sentence due to the high cost of treatment.

Nigeria’s cancer index shows more people died in the last ten years due to the disease. The WHO put the number of deaths in the country at 41,000 out of an estimated 166,000 cases recorded in 2018. Despite the threat that the disease poses to public health, only a few countries in the sub-region can deal with the enormous challenges of cancer treatment.

The visioner and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre (MRCC) and Specialist Hospital, Dr. Modupe Elebute-Odunsi, at the formal launch and opening of the hospital, described Marcelle Ruth as the story of hope and genuine concern for cancer patients and other health-related issues in Nigeria, most of whom are subjected to fragmented and rigorous medical procedures that often result in more severe health complications. She said her aim is to build a hospital that will achieve international standards in the middle of Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.

The well-attended launch drew top dignitaries from all walks of life including; Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Speaker House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila; First Lady of Lagos State, Dr. Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, and her Kebbi and Ondo state counterparts Dr. Zainab S. Bagudu and Mrs. Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu respectively. Also present at the launch was Mrs. Toyin Saraki, wife of the immediate past senate president.

Elebute-Odunsi, who was full of thanks and gratitude to everyone who has been part of the journey, which has spanned over 30 years, said: “Marcelle Ruth became a compelling and overarching obsession to impact healthcare in a different way in Nigeria; by offering quality medical services in addition to specialist services such as urology, sickle cell research, and stem cell transplant, which are largely unavailable in the country, and refusing to accept the status quo while contributing the best I can while I can still work, to change the Nigerian narrative about the disease and the fight against it.

“Our idea of a cancer center and the specialist hospital is a one-stop-shop where patients and the general public can walk in to get proper education about all kinds of cancers, screening services, diagnosis, treatments and stabilizing support services all in one place, with state-of-the-art equipment. Further, we believe that compassion and care make all the difference in providing healthcare, coupled with the vast experience and understanding that our specialist team bring onboard, using the very latest technology and treatments to deliver the best outcomes possible.”

She said the Marcelle Ruth Visioner found a willing and committed partner in Polaris Bank, one of Nigeria’s leading banks. “The Bank believed in the vision and leveraging the CBN Health sector loan, partly financed the procurement of medical equipment- radiotherapy equipment and accessories for the Specialist Cancer Centre,” Elebute-Odunsi said.

She said the Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre and Specialist Hospital is the first world-class, multipurpose-built, one-stop centre for the comprehensive treatment of specific cancers, namely: breast, gynaecological, prostate, colorectal, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which are the most common cancers in Nigeria.

The physician said MRCC is proud to house qualified specialists with local and international experiences and their ultimate aim is to improve private healthcare by offering quality medical services in addition to specialist services such as urology, sickle cell research, and stem cell transplant, which are largely unavailable in the country.

It is also believed that the formal launch and opening of Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre and Specialist Hospital boosted efforts to reverse medical tourism in Nigeria, while also shoring up the nation’s foreign exchange capital base.

The Governor of Lagos state, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who graced the occasion as the special guest of honour, demonstrated the state’s willingness to put its weight behind efforts to reverse medical tourism in the country, pledging his unalloyed support for such noble initiative.

Sanwo-Olu acknowledged the need for all hands to be on deck to institutionalise a viable and robust health sector.

The Lagos helmsman further added: “We are donating one specialist cancer centre within the next 12 months to add to MRCC and the oncology centre in Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). Looking at the statistics, we need ten more just to scratch the surface based on the number of cancer patients we are seeing. This is part of the medical infrastructure transformation project we are working on which cuts across all the disciplines of health – primary, secondary and tertiary.”

Chairman of the Hospital, Mr. Bolaji Odunsi, commended Polaris Bank and other partners for their strategic role in giving the vision a fighting chance.

In his welcome address at the launch, Odunsi, who went down memory lane, applauded the invaluable contributions of various stakeholders and partners in both the public and private sectors of the economy that assisted in making the vision of Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre, a reality.

It is believed that Polaris Bank’s commitment to aligning its sustainability efforts with that of cancer treatment in Nigeria has never been in doubt as the financial institution has demonstrated repeatedly over the years, an unwavering commitment to stemming cancer. Working with its Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) partner Care Organisation and Public Enlightenment) (C.O.PE.) Foundation, a breast cancer awareness network, the Bank has supported over 30 indigent cancer patients for treatment, provided free and comprehensive scanning opportunities for over 15,000 women, and donated cancer screening machines which have altogether helped enhance quality diagnosis and clinical practices amidst various initiatives across the country.

The Marcelle Ruth example also provides a fascinating testimonial on the benefit of the Godwin Emefiele-led CBN Credit support intervention fund for the health sector.

The CBN Credit support for the Healthcare sector is an on-lending intervention scheme for the Healthcare sector developed as part of the proactive measures to cushion the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative was developed to provide funding to indigenous pharmaceutical companies and other organisations in the healthcare value chain to enable them to increase capacity to meet the increasing demand for healthcare arising from the coronavirus pandemic. The intervention in great measure supports the attainment of Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which harps on good health and well-being.

The fund has reportedly helped entrepreneurs in the healthcare sub-sector to build sustainable businesses as well as stem the tide of medical tourism by Nigerians who would have ordinarily travelled abroad for such treatments.

With the success of this intervention, there are also indications that other visionary entrepreneurs who are looking to facilitate investments of such magnitude in the healthcare sector would approach financial institutions like Polaris Bank to partner with them, seeing what the Bank has done with Marcelle Ruth.