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Oncologists decry dearth of specialists, shortage of radiotherapy machines in Nigeria

By Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Abuja
29 September 2022   |   2:48 am
The Association of Clinical and Radiation Oncologists of Nigeria (ARCON) has called on the Federal Government to invest more funds in cancer treatment, especially paediatric cancer.

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The Association of Clinical and Radiation Oncologists of Nigeria (ARCON) has called on the Federal Government to invest more funds in cancer treatment, especially paediatric cancer.

The Association raised the alarm over the dearth of specialists in cancer treatment in the country, saying that Nigeria has less than 100 oncologists providing cancer treatment to over 200 million people.

ARCON also decried the shortage of radiotherapy machines in the country, stressing that less than 20 radiotherapy machines are functional in the entire country.

Briefing journalists on the forthcoming 5th yearly scientific conference of the association in Abuja, ARCON President, Dr. Nwamaka Lasebikan, said that based on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards, countries are supposed to have one oncologist to 100,000 population but in Nigeria, less than 100, oncologists are providing treatment for a population of over 200 million instead of at least 2500 oncologists.

She lamented that the incidence and the burden of cancer are on the rise in Nigeria, reaching alarming proportions with huge socio-economic losses to the nation.

Lasebikan noted that statistics from the Global Cancer Observatory show that four out of every five people with cancer die as a result of the disease, adding that late presentation, delayed treatment due to patient, caregivers and service providers related factors are said to be the leading causes of the high mortality.

She observed that other prominent factors include limited availability of expertise and facilities to provide effective treatment, and high cost of treatment, especially with the low earning capacity of most people.

Lasebikan said that the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Health has put in place some measures to improve access to care, however, a lot more needs to be done, adding that ARCON will be discussing innovative solutions to ameliorate this problem and redefine cancer care in Nigeria during the conference.

“I think I should mention at this point that we have one of us who recently concluded his Ph. D. programme in Britain, and it is a very new select field, and it’s called Community Oncology. Now, that means that we are taking our services out of the hospitals and into the communities where, as you said, the people actually needed the most, because one of the things that prevent people from coming into the hospital early is because they have limited knowledge. And their health-seeking behaviour is also very important.

So getting this information out there, we are partnering with the clergyman and also really trying to educate them on what Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is what cervical cancer is, because, as you all know, we’re suffering from amongst many things, the ‘not my portion syndrome’. So, this is something that we have to be mindful of, and be respectful in tackling this situation at the various religions, societies or religious communities where we may find ourselves,” he advised.

Also speaking, the Secretary General of the association, Dr. Oladele Kehinde, of the association, said that Nigeria has a huge shortage of radiotherapy machines, adding that Nigeria has less than 20 functional radiotherapy machines.

He said: “The global standard is one radiotherapy machine to one million people, but we have less than 20 radiotherapy machines that are functional. Most Nigerians travel up to 10 kilometres to access treatment. There is also the challenge of payment out of pocket, a comprehensive cancer treatment costs between N500, 000.00 to N1.5 million and health insurance is still not covering cancer treatment. We are also suffering from the migration of skilled manpower in the health sector.”

Paediatric or childhood cancer is cancer in a child. About 80 per cent of childhood cancer cases can be successfully treated thanks to modern medical treatments and optimal patient care. However, only about 10 per cent of children diagnosed with cancer reside in high-income countries where the necessary treatments and care are available.

Childhood cancer represents only about one per cent of all types of cancers diagnosed in children and adults. For this reason, childhood cancer is often ignored in control planning, contributing to the burden of missed opportunities for its diagnoses and management in countries that are low- and mid-income.

In America, an arbitrarily adopted standard of the ages used is zero to 14 years inclusive, that is, up to 14 years 11.9 months of age. However, the definition of childhood cancer sometimes includes adolescents between 15 and 19 years old. Paediatric oncology is the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in children.