The Federal Government has said, it was making frantic efforts to ensure a better treatment for all cancer patient across the country.
Director General, National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment, Dr. Usman-Malami Aliyu, disclosed this to newsmen on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 at a conference organised by E-cancer Org, an international organisation in Abuja.
He said that the Federal Government was procuring Radiotherapy equipments like scanner and other diagnosis machines to ensure adequate care for cancer patients.
According to him, all these improvements for cancer care were not available in most of the cancer care facilities in the last 10 years.
He said that currently, the Federal Government was planning to buy more sub radiotherapy equipment to six to seven centres of cancer treatment, adding that one of it was the provision of linear accelerator to treat cancer.
Aliyu said that in the area of nuclear medicine, efforts were being put in place for the first time, adding that the country was actually planning to have cyclotrons that would be supplied to other centres.
“So many things are ongoing concurrently to boost the care of cancer in the country, we are not ahead but we are making very big efforts for cancer care, we have to commend the government of the day in all these efforts.
“The Minister of Health is spear heading the whole process of the procurement of the required equipment for cancer care, diagnosis.
“I have always like to take a few steps back, if you look back let’s say 10 years back from now, there were a lot of deficiencies, of human resources in oncology, the availability of the diagnostics tools.
“The conduct of meristem chemistry which is actually to streamline components that makes cancer to be more aggressive, give an insight to the oncologist on what to do and be proactive in the management.
“All these were lacking in 10 years back, availability of treatment facilities like surgeries were not very much available, it’s only few centres maybe Abuja and Lagos that had few machines,” he stressed.
The DG admitted that there were a lot of factors that was making Nigerian young and vibrant doctors leave the country, saying that the factors had brought about shortage of oncologist for the care of cancer patients.
He said that what the Federal Government was doing and would continue to do was to continue to train more oncologist to bridge the gap of those that had left.
He stated that the training of the oncologists was one of the reasons the institute was created, adding that diagnosis and equipment provision was also part of the components of the creation of the institute.
President, Association of Radiation and Clinical Oncologist of Nigeria (ARCON),
Dr. Nwamaka Lasebikan stated that the conference was all about advocating for a better care for cancer patients.
She said that there were a lot the conference want the government to put in place to improve the care of patients, adding that cancer care in Nigeria was marred with a lot of challenges.
According to her, one of those challenges was the late presentation, and that cancer patients always present themselves when the problem was at the advanced stage.
She said that such presentation of problem at an advanced stage make treatment difficult, saying that there was need to change the narrative.
“At this stage the treatment is what we call palliative care, we are just trying to do what we can do to stop the progression of this disease, it is a major challenge for us.
“Other things that make the presentation is access to treatment which includes diagnosis and off course treatment, without accurate diagnosis and timing diagnosis, the outcome of cancer care will prove more challenge.
“Also, limitation of access to treatment, we have only about 10 facilities across the country that have functional radiotherapy equipment, I think we have been able to cover every Geo-political region with these centres.
“These centres are still not enough because many patients have to travel far to access radio therapy treatment, another issue here is financial challenge, the treatment of cancer anywhere in the world is expensive.
“We don’t have that yet under the health insurance scheme to a large extent, the NHIS is covering a little part of it,” he said.
She said that the cancer health fund which was a brain child of the ministry of health was helping to some extent, but it was limited when compared to large number of cancer patients who are making effort to access the fund.
Lasebikan also disclosed the problem of stigma, adding that there was a lot of stigmatisation going around people that have cancer, and are not encouraged to come out to make known their problem.
She also called for the development of manpower to tackle cancer issue, stressing that cancer care was not only about developing infrastructure.
The ARCON President said that the conference was all about prioritising value base care, and that the whole idea was to be able to ensure that cancer care was patients centred, and focusing on the needs and the demands of patients.
Lasebikan thanked the E-cancer. Org for organising the conference, and also thanked it for understanding that the burden of cancer in Nigeria was a lot, and there was need to change the narrative.
Gloria Okwu, Programme Coordinator, Project Pink Blue, who is also a breast cancer survivor called on government to improve more on quality care for cancer patients like the way it was done in western countries.
She also encourage everyone living with cancer problem to summon courage, saying that cancer was not a death sentence, and that they must seek treatment before it degenerate into a bigger problem”.