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FG should establish more research centres for cancer.

The President of the Nigerian Cancer Society (NCS), Dr. Adamu Umar has lamented that over N1.5bn earmarked for cancer treatment in Nigeria has not been accessed by people with the disease.

Speaking exclusively with PUNCH Healthwise, Umar said many cancer patients are not aware of the intervention fund, noting that the larger part of the money remained unused.

While stressing that cancer treatment is expensive, the NCS president said the fund known as the Cancer Health Fund was separated from the budget to tackle different types of cancer in the country.

He, however, said lack of awareness and inaccessible location has contributed to the low turnout of cancer patients accessing the fund for treatment.

The NCS president also said insufficient cancer centres across the country frustrates the effort of those trying to access patients the fund.

He said, “Private stakeholders advocated and came up with the idea on why the need to come up with some funding that is separate from budget that can be channelled to cancer treatment. It’s called catastrophic cancer fund, but later, the word catastrophic was edited, and it is referred to as Cancer Health Fund.

“As of 2022, there was over 1.5bn of that funding, but at that time, patients started accessing it. Now, the problem is that most patients are not aware. Patients who are supposed to get this intervention are not aware. And those who are aware are in places where they can’t access it.

“For example, if a patient is in Lagos and told that the cancer centre is in UCH in Ibadan, some patients don’t even have the funds to travel to Ibadan. The same thing happens in other parts of the country.

“That is why, as advocates, we advocate on having the centre in every tertiary hospital or federal government hospital in the state for this particular intervention so that patients can access it.”

Dr. Umar said efforts are being made to ensure the cancer health funds become practicable and accessible to cancer patients irrespective of their location.

“We have made a call on the involvement of non-governmental organisations because they are the ones that have access to these patients; they know the patients at the grassroots. They can make recommendations rather than one tedious work of going online to fill forms.

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“The reality is that the figure of people that have access to the funds is really nothing to write home about because there is still money out there. Over N1.5bn has not been accessed.

“As it is now, hospitals that are to render the intervention are performing. And there are hundreds of patients that have applied and many have died without accessing the fund. So, the problem is not in the number but the methodology of the intervention,” he said.

Dr. Umar lamented that there is no data to ascertain the actual number of cancer patients in the country, adding that it is frustrating the intervention project.

He stressed that cancer cases recorded in Nigeria are grossly underestimated because many people were not captured.”

“Data is one of our major headaches. Without data, you cannot project possible interventions that will impact positively on cancer patients.

“When the report that over 100,000 cancer cases were recorded in a year. I told them this is a gross underestimation because for every one cancer patient that come to the hospital, there are hundred out there that have not been diagnosed.

Dr. Umar said, “Many are not diagnosed due to lack of awareness and due to lack of access to this clinic. It is not every patient that will come to the hospital where there is cancer clinic.

“Data is the energy we need to create home-grown interventions that we will now use in making plans for our cancer treatment, patients and even the facilities.”

He, however, said the establishment of the National Institute for Cancer and Treatment will help in tackling the research and data challenges.

Dr. Umar stressed that the institute needs to provide a central aggregation of data to ease the fight against the disease.

“The institute will be responsible for data collection, research and treatment. In the years to come, you will begin to see changes in the number of those that come to the hospital.”

SOURCE: HealthWise