The recent alarm on rising cases of breast cancer in the country should serve as a wake-up call on the federal and state governments to work concertedly to tame the rampaging scourge. Apart from breast cancer, cases of cervical and prostate cancers are also increasing. Raising the alarm in Abuja during the commemoration of the 2020 International Cancer Week, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, enjoined medical practitioners and health institutions across the country to do routine physical checks for early detection of the scourge during consultations.
The minister also revealed that the Federal Ministry of Health has vowed to deploy all available human and material resources to disrupt the escalation of the disease. He used the occasion to launch two documents – The Training Manual, Data Tools and Job Aids for Secondary Prevention of Cervical Cancer in Nigeria, and The Costing of the National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Cancer in Nigeria – that would largely aid the war against cancer.
The minister pointed out that these resource materials are crucial for effective risk communication in the strategic plan of the National Cancer Control Plan 2017-2021. Available statistics from the Federal Ministry of Health indicated a significant increase in breast cancer incidence from 13.7 percent per 100,000 in 1960 to 1969, to 24.7 percent from 1990 to 1999, and to 26.1 percent from 2000 to 2016.
The breast cancer statistics are damning. This is why all tiers of government must resolve to wage a coordinated war against breast cancer and other types of cancers in the country. The private sector and other stakeholders are enjoined to be part of the ongoing campaigns to tame the cancer scourge in the country.
Recently, the wife of the Governor of Kebbi State, Dr. Zainab Shinkafi Bagudu, enjoined Nigerians to wage a relentless war against cervical cancer and free the country from the killer disease, in the same manner, it defeated poliomyelitis. According to Bagudu, more than 39.59 million women are at risk of cervical cancer while 26 women die of the disease every day in Nigeria.
She disclosed that Nigeria has the highest cancer death rate in Africa. According to medical experts, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally. The scourge accounts for an estimated 9.6 deaths or one in six deaths in 2018. Also, reports from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) showed that there were 17 million new cancer cases in 2018. In Nigeria, cancer is responsible for 72,000 deaths annually while about 102,000 new cases of cancer are recorded every year in the country.
We deplore the rising cases of breast cancer and other cancers across the country and call on the federal and state governments to intensify efforts to halt the trend forthwith. Although cancer is a leading cause of death in Nigeria, the good news is that early detection enhances the survival rate. There is an urgent need now for more public awareness on the disease, preventive measures, including lifestyle modification, and where and how to access treatment.
It has become important to establish more cancer screening centres in all the 36 states of the federation. It has become imperative that every state should have a special hospital dedicated to cancer treatment. In the same vein, every local government should have a cancer screening centre. The Federal Government must set up a cancer treatment centre in each of the six geo-political zones as part of its national plan to control the menace.
It is lamentable that many Nigerians travel abroad to access cancer treatment thereby boosting medical tourism. They do so because the facilities for such treatments are either not available or not functional. The government must make elaborate plans to establish more functional radiotherapy centres considering that the available ones in public hospitals put at eight is grossly inadequate for a population of 200 million people. At times, some of them are not functional.
The brain drain in the health sector has drastically reduced the number of oncologists working in Nigeria. Presently, Nigeria has less than 70 consultant radiation and clinical oncologists. This is also true of the number of medical physicists, therapy radiographers, and oncology nurses involved in cancer treatment in the country.
If the government is determined to defeat the cancer menace, it must make arrangements to train more oncologists and other relevant specialists in the management of the disease. To effectively halt the cancer spread, the government is advised to substantially increase its annual budgetary allocation to health.
The present budgetary allocation to health put at five percent or below is grossly inadequate to ensure the wellbeing of Nigerians. The Sun