Hundreds of advocates against cancer in Nigeria have appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to gazette and implement the National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment bill that was signed into law in December, 2017.
This call was made on Saturday during a march to mark this year’s annual World Cancer Day anniversary in Abuja, which was organised by Project Pink Blue in partnership with other advocates.
The advocates had marched from Transcorp Hilton Hotels in the Federal Capital Territory through the federal secretariat road to raise awareness against the deadly ailment that claims over 70,000 lives yearly in the country.
Speaking on behalf of the organisers, the executive director of the Project Pink Blue, Runcie Chidebe, said there is an urgent need to institutionalise cancer treatment in Nigeria.
He said: “The theme of this year’s cancer day event is “closing the care gap” and we all know that the care gap in Nigeria is institutional. Cancer care does not have an institution or proper structure and that is why it has been difficult to stem the tide of the deadly disease.
“There is nobody to hold responsible for any care gap. You can hold the health minister at some point but he will tell you he has competing priorities on his table. That is why there is a need for a separate institution or agency to specifically address the menace of cancer in Nigeria.
“For instance, look at the case of HIV care, there is NACA, which is an agency that caters for it. You can hold the director general responsible because it’s an institution.”
He said this was the reason they made it a priority this year to call on Mr Buhari to gazette the act which was signed into law in 2017 and ensure its implementation for the benefits of cancer patients in the country.
Mr Chidebe explained that the institute will help in galvanising treatment, testing and research on drugs for cancer.
Aisha Yesufu, Itodo join campaign
Meanwhile, power bike riders, cyclists in full gear and skaters performing all sorts of stunts added colour to this year’s annual World Cancer Day walk.
All adorned in pink t-shirts, Activists Aisha Yesufu and the founder of Yiaga Africa, a non-governmental organisation concerned with promotion of democracy in Africa, Samson Itodo, and the general manager of Transcorp Hilton Hotels, Kevin Brett, joined hundreds of youths dancing to the non-stop music blasting from the mobile disk jockey during the five-kilometre walk.
Speaking during the event, Mr Brett said the hotel management has been supporting Project Pink Blue for five years and will continue to do so given the group’s antecedents and drive towards fighting cancer.
He said this year’s message: “Closing the care gap– Choke cancer” is an interesting theme that should drive conversations around the disease across the country.
Mr Chidebe also added that the awareness campaign is to enlighten Nigerians that cancer is treatable and that there is an urgent need to close the care gap.
The organisers also used the event to give free prostate, breast and cervical cancer screening to hundreds of people.
Cancer Treatment Fund
The groups’ director also decried the non-implementation of the Cancer Treatment Fund about two years after it was flagged off, saying that no cancer patient has benefitted from the scheme.
Hope had risen for cancer patients, when in 2019 during a National Health Dialogue organised by PREMIUM TIMES and its partners, the health minister, Osagie Ehanire, announced a plan to institute a cancer treatment fund.
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.
But over two years after the pronouncement, cancer communities in Nigeria say they are yet to start benefiting from the fund.
Mr Chidebe said: “The Cancer Treatment Fund is private sector driven. As much as I commend the health ministry and its partners in developing a roadmap for implementation of the fund, I must state that it is taking so much time to disburse this money donated by Nigerians for Nigerians.
“It’s almost two years! This is unfair and a clear social injustice to cancer patients because cancer does not wait for you to finish all your paperwork. This year, we are supposed to be showing the faces of the beneficiaries who have received this money and that is the only way private sector investors and donor agencies can see how transparent this programme is and they will be willing to invest.
“The urgency to release this money is so important yet it hasn’t been done. Over 300 people have been enrolled but this money has not reached the wallets of the said patients and that is the painful part of the story. This is why there is a need for an institute on cancer to handle such issues”.
Cancer in Nigeria
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 as breast and cervical cancers are responsible for more deaths than any others in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, experts believe the cancer figures are underreported because many patients cannot afford the costs and often abandon hospital tests and treatment, meaning they will not be captured in the data.
Also speaking at the event, Ojai Friday, a cancer survivor, said finance and fear are the major challenges victims face in the country. He narrated how he was helped by his employers, the Transcorp Hilton management, which sponsored him to go and receive treatment for blood cancer in India.
“Since 2016, I have had cancer of the blood and am eternally grateful to the management of Transcorp Hilton that sponsored me and my wife to India for three months so I can get care. The cost is about N10 million”, he said.
The survivor decried poor funding for cancer care in Nigeria, calling on the government to support advocacy groups like Project Pink Blue who have been very pivotal in linking victims to the much-needed care.