As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to commemorate the World Cancer Day, health experts have called on the government to ensure timely disbursement and utilisation of funds approved for the prevention, treatment and control of cancer in the country.
Speaking at a media engagement to mark the day, the Coordinator of Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN), Aminu Magashi, said about N1 billion approved by the National Assembly is yet to be released.
Mr Magashi said that the National Assembly had allocated and approved N729,861,797 million in 2020 and an additional N294, 081,336 million in 2021.
“The National Assembly with the ministry of finance in 2019 implemented a budget line dedicated for the financing of cancer in Nigeria,” he said.
“In 2020 the budget was increased from N70million to N729 million. The National Assembly is not tired to allocate and approve funds, so in 2021 they added about N294 million.”
He explained that these funds, with a specific focus on breast, cervical and prostate cancer, have not been released due to lack of a clear financing mechanism.
He urged the ministry of finance and the National Assembly to work with health professionals to ensure the money is released and well utilised.
The World Cancer Day, celebrated on February 4 every year, is an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and is marked by countries all around the world.
The day aims to save millions of preventable deaths each year by raising awareness about cancer and putting pressure on governments and individuals across the world to take action against the disease.
The theme for this year’s WCD is “I am and I will,” marking the endpoint of a three-year campaign which sought to reduce fear, increase understanding and change behaviours and attitudes around cancer.
Cancer, the second leading cause of death globally, is the uncontrolled growth of a group of cells in the body. It can occur at any age and if not detected at the right time and is not treated, it can increase the risk of death.
Mr Magashi explained that the major challenge in tackling cancer is not funding but utilising allocated and approved resources to better the lives of patients in the country.
According to him, funds budgeted for cancer are still domiciled in the bank because there was no financing mechanism for the utilization of the fund.
“The major challenge is not allocation of funds but how to utilise, spend and having the financing mechanism on engaging with different government agencies to utilise these resources,” he said.
He called for the establishment of a new agency to handle the financing of cancer treatment and control in the country.
“The existence of the agency will ensure effective utilization of funds budgeted for cancer,” he said.
In his remarks, Chairman, House Committee on Healthcare Services, Yusuf Sununu, noted that for the first time, 75 per cent of funds allocated to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) were all approved.
Mr Sununu, however, raised concerns about the utilisation of the funds, noting that the National Assembly would ensure money budgeted for cancer was judiciously used.
“We will do our best at the National Assembly to ensure the wellbeing of Nigerians. My committee will stand by its mandate and do what is best for Nigerians,” he said.
The President of the Nigeria Cancer Society (NCS), Adamu Alhassan, raised concerns over new cases of cancer recorded in Nigeria in 2020.
Mr Alhassan while quoting the 2020 Global Cancer Observatory (GLOBOCAN) said 124,815 new cases of cancer were recorded in Nigeria in 2020. Over 78,000 deaths were also recorded from the disease in 2020.
He said the five years survival of cancer patients in the country is low due to late presentation, lack of awareness, weak health infrastructure, poverty and high cost of cancer care with associated catastrophic impact on family finances.
He said the NCS would continue to ensure that every cancer patient in the country has access to standard care without undue catastrophic impact on their family finances.
“The collaboration with AHBN and the Nigerian Medical Association is to explore avenues to achieving this goal.
“Moving forward, we will set up tracking mechanisms to ensure cancer-related funds in the budget are released and judiciously spent, particularly the catastrophic cancer fund,” he said.
Mr Alhassan said the association would ensure the reactivation of the International Cancer Centre to benefit the growing lists of cancer patients.
“It is more than a decade since the idea was conceptualized and it is yet to see the light of the day,” he said.
“We in the NCS see a missed opportunity to provide affordable cancer services in the abandoned project. We are therefore prioritizing advocacy for reactivation of this laudable project.”
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