Childhood Cancer
The gold ribbon symbolises childhood cancer which is the cause of death for 80% of Nigerian children who are diagnosed with it.

Narrating how the excruciating pain and cost of cancer treatment drove her to sell her valuables, Rosemary Nnamdi, in a newspaper interview, said it’s a miracle that she is still alive today. Nnamdi, 33, was diagnosed with the most common form of cancer, breast cancer in 2019, which made her give hope on life.

The young lady somehow and eventually took a leap of faith and according to the report, had a single mastectomy – a surgical procedure that involves removing the entire breast. The procedure was supposed to be complemented by radiotherapy and chemotherapy, treatments involving killing cells with radiation from elements like uranium and anti-cancer drugs respectively. This she could not totally afford.

“I started soliciting funds to cover chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions, but it was never enough. I sold every single property but it could not cover the sessions recommended by the doctor,” she said.

A revelation in an interview by Dr. Adamu Umar, President of Nigerian Cancer Society (NCS) came to mind after reading the heart-rending report on Rosemary Nnamdi.

During the interview, Dr. Umar lamented that over N1.5bn earmarked for cancer treatment in Nigeria has not been accessed by people with the disease. He disclosed that many cancer patients are not aware of the intervention fund known as Cancer Health Fund (CHF), resulting in the inaccessibility of a larger part of the money.

He identified lack of data to ascertain the actual number of cancer patients in the country as one of the reasons frustrating the intervention programme.

His revelation was stunning because the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 10 million people die of cancer (a disease in which cells of the body grow uncontrollably at a spot and spread to other parts) annually worldwide and that 70 per cent of these deaths occur in low-to-middle income countries including Nigeria.

In Africa, Mr. Walter Mulombo, WHO country representative to Nigeria said, “every year, Africa records around 1.1 million new cases of cancer resulting in up to 700,00 deaths.” According to Globocan statistics, in 2020 alone, a staggering 78, 899 cancer deaths were recorded in Nigeria.

Read Also: Over N1.5bn ‘Cancer Health Fund’ Not Yet Accessed, Says Cancer Society President

Since it costs an arm and leg to treat cancer, the ‘Cancer Health Fund’ was separated from the budget to tackle different types of cancer in the country. Should cancer patients in Nigeria not know about this?

Regrettably, lack of awareness and inaccessible location has contributed to the low participation of cancer patients accessing the fund set aside to manage their affliction.

The Nigerian CHF is a social service aimed at providing funding and health care services to indigent cancer patients. Before this, there was the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) established in 2006 as a fall-out from the 58th World Health Assembly Resolution on cancer prevention and control adopted in May, 2005. The programme was established to address the escalating cancer incidence Nigeria.

But the CHF programme is an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Health that commenced in 2021 with six pilot hospitals. Ahmadu Bello University teaching hospital (ABUTH), National Hospital Abuja (NHA), University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Benin (UBTH), Federal Teaching Hospital Gombe (FTH), University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), University College Hospital (UCH).

It involves partners such as American Cancer society, ROCHE, Pfizer, MYLAN, Clinton Health Access Initiative, World Wide Commercial Ventures (WWCV), BICON and EMGE resources who is mandated to implement the CHF initiative on behalf of the Federation Government.

Since many cancer patients seem to be oblivious of this important function, there is a need for the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to carry out sensitization programmes across many towns and villages in the country. The knowledge will then be a driving force for patients to seek treatment.

In addition, the media and non-governmental organisations can also be involved in such campaigns, while the government strives to expand beyond the six pilot hospitals.

By empowering people with the Cancer Health Fund information, we can help save thousands of lives from a killer disease, as we do not all have to be doctors to guarantee the most fundamental human right – the right to live.