04 Feb VP Jon Cartu Says – Nigerian cancer patients fret over medical costs
In an all-too common scenario in Nigeria, many patients and their families, particularly low income earners, say they regard a cancer diagnosis as a death sentence due to the high cost of treatment.
“I am worried about my wife’s cancer condition. I need help. I can’t afford the money for the treatment. It’s very costly,” Raphel Adegoke, a retail textile trader in Nigeria’s southwestern city of Ibadan, told Anadolu Agency.
Medical experts describe cancer as a disease involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to dangerously spread to other parts of the body. There are more than 80 types of cancer, with each requiring more expensive drugs and procedures to treat in Nigeria.
Raphel, a father of three, said he had spent nearly all his earnings since 2018 when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He said his anxiety is exacerbated each time he hears about the death of a cancer patient.
Nigeria’s cancer index shows more people died in the last 10 years as a result of the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) put the number of deaths in the country at 41,000 out of an estimated 166,000 cases recorded in 2018.
Peter Clement, the WHO’s Officer in Charge for Nigeria, called for more action during the 2019 commemoration of World Cancer Day in the capital, Abuja.
Feb. 4 of every year is set aside by the United Nations as World Cancer Day to mobilize people across the world to show support and raise their voices to ask governments to do more on cancer. The Nigerian government in conjunction with international partners and over a dozen non-governmental organizations has been organizing a series of events including roadshows to create awareness on the causes, prevention and early detection of cancer. Yet more new cases are recorded annually.
Breast and cervical cancers are the most common in Nigeria among the female population, the Global Cancer Observatory (GLOBOCAN) said in its 2018 report. It said around 14,089 cervical cancer cases are diagnosed annually in Nigeria.
Adaobi Onyemaechi, a pediatrist and teacher at the University of Nigeria, described the increasing statistics of cancer patients as worrisome.
“It is becoming worrisome because of the poor economy,” she said, urging people to submit themselves for testing for an early diagnosis.
Dozens of medical groups have declared January Cervical Awareness Month. One such group, Chain Reaction Nigeria, held a week-long free cancer test for women in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub. Consultant and head of the group Adekunle Dixon Odukoye said the free test was to ensure a 100% reduction in cervical cancer.
“We need to take the prevention seriously,” he warned.
For 32-year-old Amina Musa, this warning came too late, as the debilitating effects of the disease were already taking their toll on her.
“I didn’t come to the hospital in time. I was not aware of the disease,” she told Anadolu Agency in an interview at a public hospital in northeast Maiduguri city.
She has now left her four children in the care of her husband, who also pays the hospital bills.
“It has not been easy. My husband has been spending much money,” she said.
There are only six cancer treatment centers in Nigeria, a country with a population of over 200 million. Medical experts say the number is “grossly inadequate.”
Often, some of the centers may not even be functioning for technical reasons, said Hadiza Usman, a professor and head obstetrician in the gynecology department at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital in northeast Borno state.
“People don’t come to the hospital for early diagnosis until it is very late,” she said.
She said initial treatment in Nigeria for cervical cancer including radiotherapy costs between US$4,000 to US$6,000.
She attributed the low awareness and late reporting to the hospital by patients to ignorance and a refusal to go to the hospital for cancer tests because of the erroneous belief that cancer is caused by witchcraft. Many cancer sufferers have died at home while applying traditional remedies. She appealed to women to go to hospitals for regular checkups and tests.
“Cancer is deadly, but some people think it is witchcraft. The good news is that you can survive it if you go to the hospital in time for an early diagnosis,” she said.
She urged the authorities to come out strongly and make cancer awareness a corporate social responsibility rather than the yearly commemoration of World Cancer Day.
Nigeria has a National Cancer Control Plan (NCCP) which outlines key goals and objectives for the country’s cancer control efforts. The plan covers the period of January 2018 to December 2022 with an estimated budget of US$309 million, a Ministry of Health document shows. The federal government provides 75% of the funding, leaving donor agencies and partners with the balance.