A civil society organisation, First Ladies against Cancer (FLAC), has advocated the incorporation of cancer screening into the country’s national health system at the primary health care (PHC) level.
According to the organisation, PHCs are the closest access to healthcare for the populace, especially those dwelling at the rural communities.
Speaking during a virtual briefing on Tuesday, the wife of Niger State Governor and FLAC chairperson, Amina Bello, said institutionalising screening of cancers at the grassroots level increases early detection and thereby reducing the incidence of cancer.
Mrs Bello noted that prevention and early detection of cancer not only improves chances of survival and reduces morbidity, but also reduces the financial burden associated with the cost of treatment.
She said efforts to raise awareness for cancer and treatment options have not been completely successful in improving cancer health behaviour among women in Nigeria
“This is because cancer screening is viewed as an added cost and inconvenience. However, if it is institutionalised as one of the requisite tests, then it becomes a compulsory exercise for women,” she said.
Out of pocket payment
Mrs Bello explained that cancer treatment is very expensive and that more than 75 per cent of Nigerians still pays for healthcare out of pocket.
She said this is a huge burden on the resources of the average Nigerians.
She said FLAC’s advocacy was to mobilise the government as well as local leaders toward ensuring that adequate resources are invested in cancer care.
She explained that efforts are being made to ensure cancer treatment is incorporated into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
PREMIUM TIMES understands that the burden of cancer treatment has left many patients and their families with no option than to sell properties to raise funds.
Experts said cancer patients also rely on foreign aid and raising funds through social media, a situation health experts blamed on the country’s fragmented health insurance system.
Earlier in 2019, the health minister, Osagie Ehanire, at a National Health Dialogue, announced plans to institute a cancer treatment fund.
“There will be a creation of a fund, either a cancer treatment fund or whatever we decide to call it. It is important and can be driven by investment or donation,” the minister said.
The minister said the new fund will help reduce the cost of treatment and diagnosis, noting that the funding plan will draw support from the private sector.
However, almost two years after, cancer communities in Nigeria say they are yet to start benefitting from the fund.
Although the chairman, healthcare services committee, House of Representatives, Tanko Sununu, at a retreat in March, 2021, said the ministry of health is at the modality stage of disbursing the funds to selected hospitals that will cover indigent patients.
Screening is pertinent
Mrs Bello said having a national screening programme for cervical cancer will key into the recently launched WHO cervical cancer elimination strategy, which involves screening and treatment of cervical cancer as well as the prevention with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination.
She said the HPV vaccines are only available to those who can afford it, which brings the need to incorporate the vaccine into the National vaccination programme.
She said FLAC is collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Health, vaccine manufacturers and other partners to make the vaccines more accessible to young girls and women across the country.
“We are also advocating for the HPV vaccines to be given to our girls to prevent more cancer cases,” she said.
In his remarks, the General Manager of Roche Nigeria, Ladi Hameed, said the organisation has specifically paved the way to provide breast cancer treatment to women in some states across the country.
Mr Hameed said efforts are ongoing to create awareness amongst women about the importance of vaccination, screening and treatment.
“For both breast and cervical cancers, the screening tests are simple and relatively inexpensive and can easily be provided at primary health centres,” he said.
Mrs Bello said cancer is detected at late stages due to lack of awareness amongst key populations.
She noted that other factors affecting women’s resistance to cancer screening include the low perception of cancer risk and physician gender preferences.
She said lack of spouse permission and support; belief that cancer is a death wish and societal discrimination, are among the common socio-cultural barriers to screening.
“It is therefore imperative that stakeholders upscale efforts to advocate for and create awareness of cancer screening available to Nigerian women,” she said.
Over 70,000 deaths are recorded from cancer annually in Nigeria. In 2020 alone, 78,899 cancer-related deaths were recorded in Nigeria, according to Globocan statistics.
Women often bear the brunt — breast and cervical cancers are responsible for more deaths than any others in Nigeria.
While 34,200 men died from cancer in 2020, 44,699 women succumbed to the disease, according to Globocan data.
Estimates from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggest that the cancer death rate in Nigeria was 113.7 per 100,000 people in 2017.
Besides, experts believe the cancer figures are underreported because many patients cannot afford the costs and often abandon hospital tests and treatment, and so they would not be captured in the data.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999