Health experts and cancer survivors have called on governments across all strata to make cancer screening and prevention services free and available to Nigerians at the primary healthcare centres.
This advice was given in Abuja on Tuesday, during one of the panel sessions at the ongoing annual National Health Dialogue organised by PREMIUM TIMES.
The two day event themed “Universal Health Coverage – The role of State and Non state Actors in Healthcare funding and support” is in collaboration with the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), the Project for Advocacy in Child and Family Health, PACFaH@Scale, the Project Pink Blue and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF).
Speaking during a cancer panel sponsored by Project Pink Blue, a breast cancer survivor Gloria Orji, said most cancer patients in Nigeria often present themselves late for treatment because cancer screening services are not readily available.
Ms Orji, President of Network of People Impacted by Cancer, said the government should provide services for the screening of the three common cancers in Nigeria: breast cancer, cervical cancer and prostrate cancer at the primary healthcare level.
She also urged the country to emulate African countries like Kenya and Rwanda and introduce free HPV vaccines for women especially at the rural areas.
Ms Orji said though the National Health Insurance Scheme now covers some aspects of cancer treatment, “it is still very expensive and not affordable by many patients.”
“NHIS covers only the basics and the third degree drugs are not covered.
“Those drugs are 80 per cent of the time not available, and if they are not available you will see people cutting corners to make sure that the drugs are available.
“This NHIS scheme is very beautiful but a lot of us don’t know much about it, so also our religious leaders, and they tend to convince people against treatment and this affects treatment,” she said.
Ms Orji lamented that one of the challenges with cancer treatment and prevention in Nigeria is “that people do not have the right knowledge to assist them make right decisions”.
“It brings us to the part of people not knowing because we say knowledge is power, but we fail to have the right knowledge and that is why we should be emphasising on the right knowledge, we know so many things but we don’t know the right knowledge.”
On the same panel, the former National Coordinator, National Cancer Control Programme, Ramatu Hassan, said for Nigeria to reduce the high number of deaths reported due to late presentation of the disease, PHCs should be equipped to handle issues of screening, prevention and sensitisation.
She said cervical, breast and prostrate cancer screening should be done at the primary healthcare level.
Mrs Hassan said there is a cancer screening plan for the country, “unfortunately, it is not being executed.”
She said government needs to increase the capacity of PHC workers to recognise signs and symptoms of cancer.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, also a panelist, said though there is a lot of challenges in the health sector, “but the sector is still a work in progress”.
Mr Ehanire said prevention of cancer is one of the best ways to avoid it. He said this can be done by avoiding unhealthy habits that cause cancer.
Such unhealthy lifestyle includes smoking of tobacco, shisha, drinking of alcohol, eating junks and lack of exercise.
The minister advocated for more awareness and prevention of the disease adding that the funds needed for cancer care are yet to be provided “as the country has other competitive demands than health.
Mr Ehanire said the government has embarked on a preventive approach towards tackling cancer by increasing taxes on some of the causal factors such as alcohol, tobacco among others.
He said the taxes would also help raise funds for other health interventions.