Health experts have called on the federal government to redouble efforts in establishing funding for cancer treatment which constitutes the highest cause of medical tourism.
The experts made this call in Abuja on Tuesday at an oncology conference where they converged to discuss the way forward for cancer funding in the country.
According to WHO estimates, cancer is one of the highest killer diseases in Nigeria as 100,000 cancer deaths are recorded annually while 250,000 new cases emerge yearly.
The key speaker, Senior Health Specialist, International Finance Corporation, IFC of the World Bank Group, Olumide Okunola, in his presentation titled, ‘’ Funding Cancer in Nigeria: The Way Forward,’’ advocated for special funding for cancer treatment in the country.
He expressed worry that the consequences of cancer affliction in Nigeria was worse among poor rural dwellers adding that the government should take a more pragmatic approach towards stemming the tide of cancer in the country.
”We need to recognise and emphasise on public financing. Nigeria is spending the lowest in public health financing. We need to upscale it,’’ he said.
Mr. Okunola called on the government to dedicate funds ”accruing from the federation account, tax on alcohol and tobacco, lifestyle taxes, seized loot, etc. towards funding catastrophic health challenges in Nigeria.”
While suggesting other options for financing cancer infrastructure in Nigeria to include public financing, blended financing and commercial financing, he called for the implementation of the National Health Act, situation of the administration of the Cancer Health Financing, CHF, in the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, and the need to engage with the Bank of Industry, BOI, and Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and other financial institutions on how to explicitly benefit from concessionary financing for oncology in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, expressed the commitment and determination of the government to mitigate the effects of cancer in the country adding that in the next 6 months government would deploy 8 to 12 new machines for oncology.
Mr. Adewole, a medical professor and a specialist in oncology and gynaecology, said radiotherapy was not the only way of treating cancer. He added that there was a need for a nationwide awareness campaign and screening exercise for cancer.
Mr. Adewole further noted that with increased awareness, cancer cases would be reduced by 40 per cent adding that early diagnosis would reduce the prevalence of cancer cases in Nigeria.
The minister however disclosed that the government was working on revamping eight designated cancer treatment centres nationwide while focusing on two centres before the end of the year. These are the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH and the National Hospital, Abuja.
Also speaking at the event, the wife of the vice president, Dolapo Osinbajo, noted that though the government had made some remarkable progress in the war against cancer, more needed to be done.
She advocated for more staff in the medical field adding that the number of health personnel in the medical profession particularly in the area of cancer treatment and care was inadequate.
Earlier in his welcome address, the President of Cancer Education and Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria, CEAFON, Francis Duronsimi, said that CEAFON was ”making history in cancer education and advocacy in Nigeria by successfully producing and launching the first Cancer Treatment Guidelines Series in Nigeria which started with the launching of Breast Cancer Treatment Guidelines by the Minister of Health, in February 2017.”
Mr. Duronsimi said the 2017 Cancer Summit would be a special one as people would ”learn something new and useful as they continue to get involved in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care of our cancer patients.”