World Cancer Day: Patients bemoan treatment gaps in Nigeria

  • Only one functioning radiotherapy machine in the North – Expert

  • “Nigeria has only 90 cancer specialists”

By Ojoma Akor (Abuja) Zahraddeen Yakubu Shuaibu (Kano) Ado Abubakar Musa (Jos) Mohammed Ibrahim Yaba (Kaduna) Risikat Ramoni (Lagos)

As Nigeria joins the rest of the world in marking World Cancer Day, citizens Cancer patients complain about the low access to care due to the insufficient number of treatment centers, cancer specialists and the high cost of treatment in the country.

Patients and medical experts said it was necessary to address these challenges in order to close the gaps in cancer care in the country. They called on government at all levels, philanthropists and other stakeholders to subsidize cancer treatment to alleviate the hardships they face.

According to the President of the Nigeria Cancer Society, Dr. Adamu Alhassan Umar, the most common cancers are breast, prostate and cervical cancers.

While lamenting the lack of cancer data in the country, he said Globacan estimates that Nigeria recorded 124,000 new cases of cancer in 2020, of which 78,000 people died.

“Only three working radiotherapy machines in Nigeria”

Dr Umar said that in December last year, only three of the country’s seven cancer treatment centers had working radiotherapy machines. Radiation therapy machines use radiation to treat cancer patients.

The seven tertiary hospitals in Nigeria that have radiotherapy machines are: National Hospital Abuja, Usmanu Danfodiyo Teaching Hospital, Sokoto; Ahmadu Bello University Hospital, Zaria; University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, University Teaching Hospital, Ibadan, University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Benin and Lagos Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba.

He said the working radiotherapy machines are at National Hospital Abuja, Teaching Hospital Lagos and University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu.

He added that the National Hospital Abuja and the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu have entered into a public-private partnership agreement which allows for the participation of private actors in the maintenance and operation of the facilities. radiotherapy devices.

He said: “For example in the North, only one is currently functional. It is that of the national hospital of Abuja. I learned that they are replacing the old machine in Sokoto with a new one which is actually good, but the problem is that the time needed to change and maintain the equipment is expensive for the patients.

“Imagine a patient traveling from Borno State or Yobe State for radiotherapy treatment at the National Hospital in Abuja or Lagos and then returning to pursue other forms of treatment. So this is in eye-opening fact for patients and that is the problem we have in Nigeria.

“The lack of maintenance culture, and the lack of qualified personnel to handle these machines also count. We’re supposed to have these machines in pretty much every hospital that treats cancer patients, but unfortunately that’s not the case. »

He called on the government and policymakers to create appropriate policies to fill the gaps and ensure the availability of cancer centers for screening, treatment and palliative care.

Why Governors Should Have a National Cancer Plan – Expert

Runcie Chidebe, a cancer control advocate, said cancer care in Nigeria needs greater government attention as less than 90 cancer specialists, otherwise known as clinical oncologists, treat more of 100,000 patients.

He explained that the huge gap between the number of patients and doctors has led to an increase in the number of hours, days and weeks spent in hospital before seeing a doctor.

Runcie, who is also the executive director of the Pink Blue project, said: “Cancer treatment centers are not equipped enough. A facility like Port Harcourt University Hospital has no functioning radiotherapy machines.

“There is no public institution that has a radiotherapy center (machine) in the whole South-South. It is also the same story in the North-East zone.

Runcie said cancer treatment centers are so far away that only 60% of Nigerians are closer to comprehensive cancer treatment centers in Nigeria.

He recommended that every state governor take cancer care seriously, adding that “if we keep leaving it to the federal government alone, it’s not really going to work.”

“No PET scanner machine in Nigeria”

Runcie lamented that the unavailability of a single positron emission tomography (PET) scanner nationwide is causing concern. The CT scan is important in the treatment and management of cancer.

He also deplored the lack of reagents for tumor labeling. Tumor marking is a diagnosis done for people who are already fighting cancer to find out whether or not there is still a malignant tumor (spread of cancer) in their body.

He said: “The reagents (ingredients) used for the tumor marker are not available in Nigeria, rather they are ordered from South Africa and there is a timetable.”

Patient experiences

In 2012, a cyst appeared on Bashir Sulaiman’s cheek, which was then suspected of being cancerous. From Nakowa Hospital in Kalun Community of Shendam Local Government Area in Plateau State where he underwent minor surgery, to Murtala Hospital in Kano, and finally to Hospital in Teaching at Aminu Kano University in Kano, Suleiman said the cyst had grown to envelop one side of his face and was correctly diagnosed as cancer at Aminu Kano University Hospital.

He said nearly 10 years after the cyst first appeared, he continues to live with excruciating pain and is now financially depleted from treatment. Bashir added that before he was referred to Kano for treatment, he had relied on traditional medicine for almost seven years which proved unsuccessful.

He said Daily Trust that the major challenge for cancer patients is that access to specialists and treatment is not instantaneous. “If you come today for an appointment with a doctor, if you don’t have the chance to see the doctor, you will be asked to come back another day. So it was not easy,” he said.

Nineteen-year-old Mohammed Farhan Musa, who resides in Unguwar Shanu in Kaduna State, has been battling stomach cancer for six months. After undergoing surgery at Barau Dikko University Hospital in Kaduna, he was referred to Ahmadu Bello University Hospital (ABU), Shika in Zaria for another surgery.

The teenager’s father, Malam Musa Abubakar, said Daily Trust that Barau Hospital doctors Dikko and Shika had donated for her son’s treatments because he could not raise the money but said that did not solve their problem.

“The cost of each chemotherapy is N60,000 and the cost of the tests is N11,500. We are now at home as we cannot afford to continue the treatment but the hospital has asked us to come back in February. As we speak he is in pain but we cannot return to hospital due to financial issues,” he said.

Malam Abubakar said his son’s doctors decided he needed chemotherapy every three weeks, but the injections and drugs were very expensive. “We were first advised to take him to Abuja for chemotherapy but the family cannot afford it,” he said.

A cancer survivor, Martina Chia, who has just recovered in 2020, said it was not easy for her surviving breast cancer which she spent seven years battling, coupled with people’s stigma.

“Long story short, I had to undergo radiotherapy at the National Hospital in Abuja, which took me over three months. Also during the treatment I almost lost my brain when I took drugs, so it wasn’t easy at all. I spent between five and six million naira during this period,” she said.

Situation in the States

In Plateau State, experts say there is an increase in cases of cancer diseases based on cases received by oncologists in hospitals. Dr Mercy Isichei, an oncologist at Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), said the majority of cancer patients are younger, with prostate cancer being most common in men, while breast cancer is the more common in women.

State Health Commissioner Dr Nimkong Larndam said Daily Trust that although cancer cases are being treated at JUTH and Bingham University Hospital, Jos, the federal government has planned to upgrade the cancer treatment center at JUTH and is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.

Speaking on the prevalence of cancer in Kaduna State, ABU Teaching Hospital Oncologist Dr Aisha Mustapha said specialists are available but there is a need to improve the under -specialization and training in cancer care.

Dr Mustapha said treatment centers are available but “there is no functioning external radiation therapy machine in the whole of northern Nigeria except the National Hospital in Abuja. Imagine the burden of the machine,” she said.

Dr Mustapha, who is also the Kaduna Secretary of State of the Nigerian Medical Association, said there was still no formal sub-specialty training in Surgical Oncology in Nigeria and few training opportunities abroad.

A source from Aminu Kano University Hospital (AKTH) told our reporter that the most common cancer case in the state is breast cancer and the hospital treats between 50 and 100 patients every week.

Kano does not have any radiotherapy machines and patients have to be referred to the national hospital in Abuja or Lagos.

A consultant radiation therapist and clinical oncologist Dr. Muhammad Inuwa Mustapha said 70% of cancer patients in the state need radiation therapy but find it difficult to get it because there is not a only radiotherapy machine in Kano.

He added that it was stressful to send his patients to Abuja for radiotherapy which costs N600,000 per patient.

He lamented that people don’t come for cancer treatment until it reaches an advanced stage, saying there is a better chance of survival when diagnosed early.

The Federal Health Ministry’s director of hospital services, Dr Adebimpe Adebiyi, did not respond to posts about what the ministry was doing to fill the gaps as of press time.

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