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‘Politicians Must Place Priority On Cancer Control’

By DEBO OLADIMEJI
13 February 2015   |   11:00 pm
This year’s World Cancer Day themed: “Not Beyond Us” was celebrated by Breast Without Spot (BWS) a non-governmental organisation (NGO) at University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka on February 4 with youths from all walks of life. The President and founder of BWS, Professor Ifeoma Okoye spoke to DEBO OLADIMEJI on the World Cancer Day and…

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This year’s World Cancer Day themed: “Not Beyond Us” was celebrated by Breast Without Spot (BWS) a non-governmental organisation (NGO) at University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka on February 4 with youths from all walks of life. The President and founder of BWS, Professor Ifeoma Okoye spoke to DEBO OLADIMEJI on the World Cancer Day and how to reduce cancer in Nigeria.

Breast Without Spot (BWS) a non-governmental organisation founded by Prof Ifeoma Okoye, a professor of Radiology, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria Nsukka has always used the World Cancer Day as an opportunity to focus on the youths. This year was not an exception as BWS marked the day with a documentary titled: “A Day Without Cancer” at University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Multipurpose Hall C for the benefit of youths and others who attended the event.

  She spoke about the programme, saying: “You know BWS has an arm that is called All Youths Against Cancer. We have been organising youths’ jamboree since 2010. The reason for that is that we have discovered that adoption of a healthy lifestyle is very important in preventing cancer. We want the youths to adopt a healthy lifestyle and to influence others around them.”

  She is happy that the youths learnt a lot of things during the event. 

  “They learnt that cancer is a disease that troubles the body. It is just that everybody called it cancer but they are diseases with different characteristics affecting different parts of the body and having different reasons for their existence.”

  She said that February 4, 2015 was dedicated by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to mark the World Cancer Day, “in order to increase awareness on cancer all over the world.”

  UICC, she said, has a membership in around 170 countries with a huge followership. 

  “I want to use this opportunity to call on our leaders to know what the issues are around cancer and to do the needful to prevent people from having cancer both locally and globally.”

  Okoye added that more studies are being done to reduce deaths from pancreatic cancer. 

 “You have to boost your immune system through a healthy lifestyle, basically taking enough fruits and vegetables, reducing your intake of fatty foods, alcohol and sugar. Reducing your tendency to become obese. Increasing your physical activities will all go along way in preventing cancer.” 

  She explained that one-third of cancers are caused by our diets. 

“So, there is the need to hold the producers of food accountable for the products they are bringing into the market. Put taxes on those food items that are not healthy.”

  She admitted that cancer can be in the body for 10 to 20 years. “Your body is capable of suppressing the evolution of cancer. But what do you think will happen if you have not been adopting a healthy lifestyle? The free radicals will be increased inside your system, leading to inflammatory process.” 

  Okoye is impressed that there are  many non-governmental organisations creating awareness on cancer in the country. “But the problem we are having is that we are not being motivated or empowered. We need funding support from the private and the public sectors to be able to do more than we are doing and to support the government.” 

  She regretted that lung cancer is rising among females.

“There is the need for us to raise alarm concerning that. We should ensure that we are very serious about this smoking thing because so many people are taking up the habit. Our Nollywood artists are not helping matters. It seems as if it is the in thing among them.”

  The President of BWS also described alcohol as a serious problem.

  She urged Nigerians (both males and females) to avoid alcohol. 

  “Alcohol and smoking combined is a tragedy. They work together to cause havoc in our system.”

   She noted that 30 to 40 percent of the cancers in Africa are related to infections. “Like cervical, liver and stomach cancers.”

  She revealed that all hands should be on deck to fight cancer. “Increased annual international funding of US$18 billion could save three million lives per year through prevention, early detection and improved care for cancer patients. An increase in tobacco taxes alone would raise tax revenue available to governments to US$400 billion annually and could encourage one-third of smokers to quit.”

  The European Union (EU), she said, has been able to save over 300, 000 people from dying of cancer in Europe. “In EU countries, healthy foods are cheaper than unhealthy foods. So, people take the option to buy healthy foods.” 

  She recalled that they have increased taxes on cigarette as well. “They also put limitation on advertisement of unhealthy products like cigarette. “They have a certain standard of how the packet of cigarette should look so that it will not be attractive to the ordinary eyes.” 

  Okoye admitted that while most of the developed nations had put in a lot of funding into cancer control, the developing nations are yet to do so.

  “This is the political season. Politicians are running around asking us to give them their votes. The electorate should demand from the politicians to show evidence that they are going to be serious and put priority on cancer control in their agenda.”

  The professor reminisced that there is escalating prevalence of cancer in the developing nations, especially in Africa and Nigeria is a case study. The result is that “a lot of Nigerians leave the shores of this country in order to access appropriate cancer management abroad.”

  The founder of BWS acknowledged that one of the very serious issues as far as cancer is concerned is the imperativeness of cancer victims to be around their loved ones “because you need a lot of care, attention and emotional support. When those cancer patients have to leave the shores of this country, how many of their relations, loved ones can actually travel with them?”

  Added to that, the medical bills, she disclosed, can be overwhelming.

  “So, we are calling on the government to set up a lot of cancer control centres in the tertiary institutions in the country.”

 The government, she said, can afford the money that will be needed to do that. 

  “It is not even up to a billion naira. If Nigeria could inject the necessary funding into the system, I am sure we will be well on our way to winning this battle and prevent people from dying of cancer in Nigeria.”

  She recommended that there is the need for the government to make regulation against environmental pollution.

  “We have to put in place measures to protect our environment from fumes from vehicles, polluting our environment. Ensuring that our vehicles are road worthy. To put an end to fumes coming from the generators, we need to get our power sector right. We need to improve our refuse disposal system.”

  She advised the government to legislate against smoking in public places.

 “Make some regulations concerning the use of generators and where the exhaust pipe of generators should be directed to. Make regulation against those people living in high-tension cable areas. Because definitely after living for five to 10 years under high tension wire, there is no way you will not be at high risk of having cancer.”

  She said that vaccination of girls against cancer is very important. 

  “The government should subsidize if they cannot afford the full price of vaccination or they should join NGOs to encourage parents to vaccinate their girls for cervical cancer and then to promote hepatitis vaccine.”    

  As for stomach cancer, she said, it has reduced. 

 “The only two cancers that are still not going down according to statistic from the EU is cancer of the lung and pancreatic cancer.”