Special Report: Cancer Patients In Nigeria Lack Funds And Access To Quality Healthcare, But Are Referred To Overseas For Treatment Without Govt Assistance

Many cancer patients are referred to overseas by the Nigerian hospitals due to poor healthcare in the country. Odimegwu Onwumere writes that from the victims’ bank accounts they make public for assistance from good spirited individuals and groups in order to head overseas for treatment without government coming to their assistance for funding, winning cancer in the country will remain a mirage  


A Nigerian Cancer patient


Aminat Adeniyi was 8 years old when her parents noticed that her chest was obtruding. Little did the Adeniyis who reside in Ajegunle Street, Alakuko, Lagos State, expect that what they had taken as a mere boil on their daughter’s chest would grow out of hand and cause the family sleepless nights.


All the monies that the family had saved were expended on treating the little girl who was 12 years old last year. The ailment was dogged that she underwent a surgical operation, which did little to ameliorate the disorder, but resurfaced barely four months after.


In the process, her father lost his job and the family was at a crossroads. Documents from the Lagos State Teaching Hospital, where examinations on the status of the disease were conducted showed that “the girl has a left chest wall mass of about nine years duration.”


The paradox was that when assessments had proven that the swell would not be painful, the girl’s condition worsened that she lost so much weight. Fingers pointing at cancer as the bane of the girl, the family expressed apprehension and were later advised to take the girl to overseas “for proper surgery by chest reconstruction experts.” This is without any government assistance.


Drained Funds

Since the father of the ailing child, Adeniyi Monsuru, could not get a support from the government; he resorted to seeking public assistance by giving out his bank details. This was the same case with Donald Nwosu, a Nigerian Medical Doctor who needed N25m (about $61,700) to treat cancer, July last year.  


Cancer 2
Donald Nwosu, a Nigerian Medical Doctor who needed N25m (about $61,700) to treat cancer, in July 2017.

If not for Nwosu’s classmates numbering six that went online, using a platform known as Go-Fund Me, to appeal to public conscience to assist the medical doctor, he would not had lived up the July of last year. In their effort, they were able to raise $25,000, a fraction of the $61, 700 that were required for Nwosu to be alive.


The cases of Aminat Adeniyi and Donald Nwosu are but a few examples of the many cancer patients who are writhing in pains in their closet due to funds to take further step against their malady.


Emphasise On Public Financing

In a public presentation during the 2018 World Cancer Day in Lagos, a non-governmental organisation, The Dorcas Cancer Foundation expressed sadness that funding has become a dilemma to the fight against cancer in the country. Hence, the group frowned that government policies were yet to offer viable entrée for those living with cancer, especially children.


According to the founder of The Dorcas Cancer Foundation, Dr. Adedayo Joseph, “The best way to fight cancer is for the authorities to provide enough funds and put up policies that will give patients easy admittance to reputable treatment.


However, the authorities in Nigeria would always blame the citizens of not presenting their cancer matters early for diagnosis, a ploy the government has been using in order not to take blame for the lack of modern equipment in the hospitals across the country.


According to a source that would prefer anonymity, “Nigeria, with a population of over 170 million, has only eight centres for cancer treatment. Out of the eight radiotherapy machines procured by the Federal Government over 10 years ago and distributed to seven states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), none is functioning at present.”


Then-again, in its plan to screen 250,000 (eligible poor) Nigerians whom the government said could not pay for the services of screening, the government “appeals to private sector players, including foundations, to support the Federal Government in its quest to screen Nigerians for cancers by collaborating with us.”


Cancer Patients Dying

The authorities had admitted that they were not doing much to tame the surge of cancer in the country in the areas “of lack of basic equipment for treatment of cancer” as they said that 10,000 Nigerians die of the scourge yearly.


This acknowledgment was submitted by the authorities in Abuja on December 1 2017. It came even as the Federal Ministry of Health said the same year that at least 250,000 new cases of cancer were recorded yearly in Nigeria.


“Today, 10,000 cancer deaths are recorded annually while 250,000 new cases are recorded yearly in Nigeria,” the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole announced on Monday December 4 2017. 

Nigeria's Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole
Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole


75% Percent Cancer Death By 2030

The World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti during the 2018 World Cancer Day, said Africa which Nigeria is part of, may hit 75% death from cancer by 2030.


“The cancer death rate is expected to double by 2030. Seventy-five (75 per cent) per cent of cancer deaths in the world are recorded in low and middle-income countries such as African member states, partly due to late diagnosis. Fewer than 30 per cent of low income countries have access to cancer diagnosis and treatment services,” as according to Moeti.


But over the years there have been promises by the government to seeing that the hospitals had modern cancer equipment. These promises had met little or no implementation, let alone, execution. Unlike Nigeria, the review of International Atomic Energy Agencies of all countries conducted in 2013 showed that only South Africa and Egypt have the competence of treating cancer.


The likes of Adeniyi and Nwosu were therefore skeptical of the recent promise made by the Minister of Health, saying that 70 federal health establishments were earmarked to get N11.5bn as part of the special health intervention project.


According to the source, “The special intervention projects include the tertiary health institution project, revitalisation of 774 Primary Healthcare Centres in each local government area across the country, purchase of anti-retroviral drugs for 20,000 eligible Nigerians and nationwide screening of common cancers (particularly cancer of the cervix, breast and prostate).”


The Minister believed that today in Nigeria, “The federal teaching hospitals, medical centres and specialist hospitals across the six geopolitical zones that will benefit from the intervention include 21 federal teaching hospitals, 31 Federal Medical Centres, four specialist hospitals, 14 fistula and cleft lip/palate centres.”


He pointed out that under the project, “each of the federal teaching hospitals will receive N300m while the specialist hospitals will receive N200m each. The FMCs and the fistula centres will receive N120m and N50m respectively. Other projects include 10,000 free cataract surgeries (i.e. 250 cataract surgeries per state) and free treatment of 800 patients with confirmed diagnosis of hepatitis C infection.”


Much as his words sound nice, those who know better said that government would always have sweet talks as if it was out to help the cancer patients forgetting that majority of Nigerians do not have the wherewithal to cater for their health needs unlike those in the government who sprint to overseas without sweat.


Conversely, the key speaker at a summit on cancer in Abuja, Senior Health Specialist, International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank Group, Dr. Olumide Okunola said, “We need to recognise and emphasise on public financing, Nigeria is spending the lowest in public health financing, per capital expenditure, and we need to upscale it.”  


Therefore, it behooves the government to put all modalities in place to help cancer patients in Nigeria from going berserk where they are looking for funds to stay alive.


Odimegwu Onwumere is an award-winning journalist based in Rivers State, Nigeria. Email: apoet_25@yahoo.com


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