9, 000 Nigerian Women Die Annually Of Cancer Without Access To Adequate Healthcare

By Odimegwu Onwumere

Odimegwu Onwumere writes that cervical and breast cancers are undermining the development of women in Nigeria with 9, 000 cancer-infected women dying yearly; and if government does not take urgent step to proffer solutions against the malady, women in Nigeria are endangered specie

Madam Chinyere Michael’s husband died in 2013 of Blood Pressure (BP), leaving their 3 teenage children to her care in their squalid situation. Later, she developed cancer of the breast.

Without a proper access to hospital due to poverty, on December 26 2016, her matrimonial family in Afikpo, Ebonyi State, was thrown into mourning, as her remains were lowered into her grave, after she died.

“I’m yet to believe that my mum is late from the cancer complications she battled for two years and could not have entrée to suitable medical attention she needed in the country, because we’re not financially stable to take her to overseas,” Michael Sunday Michael, her first son in his early 20s, said.

While the Michaels were gnashing their teeth for their loss, the family of Priye Walson residing at Seaside Road, Oyigbo, Rivers State, was celebrating the survival of their mother and wife that survived cancer in India.

“My wife was flown to India when it was detected that she had cancer and today, I’m celebrating her survival. The in-thing was that I could afford sending her to India for treatment. If not, she could have died in the process in Nigeria where the healthcare is zero,” said Mr. Priye Walson.

Chinyere was one of the 800,000 women in developing countries that include Nigeria international oncologists said that go dead of breast, cervical cancers yearly, especially due to destitution.

Specialists believed that cervical cancer had taken lives of women than could be related to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria plunked together. There was apprehension that more women numbering 3.2 million would be diagnosed of breast cancer in 2030, from 1.7 million that have been the ratio globally, according The Lancet, a medical journal.

The Director of Sebeccly Cancer Care and Support Centre, at a Health Sensitisation and Screening for Health Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HEWAN) in Lagos, bared fears that out of the numbers, no less than 9,000 Nigerian women die annually as a consequence of cervical cancer.

There were dictates that many of the women, perhaps, could not have had cancer or died, especially those with cervical cancer, if the Federal Government had distributed cervical cancer vaccine to reduce the pervasiveness of the malady in Nigeria.

Investigations revealed that during the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan presidency, the then Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu increased cancer awareness through the media.

According to a reliable source, “In 2011, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu launched the cervical cancer prevention vaccination, Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine, being the first time it has been done in Nigeria.”

But under the Major General Muhammadu Buhari presidency, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole recently told the News Agency of Nigeria that the Federal Government would ‘soon’ start giving out cervical cancer vaccine to reduce the commonness of such cancer in Nigeria.

“There is now a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer and we are working to make the vaccine available,” the Minister said, adding, “I can tell today that there is no public hospital that has a functional cancer machine.”

Head of Radiotherapy and Oncology Department of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, Lagos, Dr. Remi Ajekigbe told authorities that breast cancer is the major disease affecting women with a quarter numbers of the affected dictating it earlier, whereas over 70 percent dictate it late. Ajekigbe supposed that the later do so because of the myth that such illness is inflicted by witches and wizards, but largely due to they cannot afford treatment at the hospital.

“The hospital is always not the first port of call. The patients must have gone to all sorts of places before coming to the hospital. The pastors are not helping issues by claiming miracle cure for cancer.

“It is wrong. The whiteman that brought Christianity came along also with medicine and hospital care. Pastors should tell them to come for medical care while they continue praying for them,” Dr. Ajekigbe said.

Unlike in Nigeria where low survival rates from breast cancer is accommodating owing to late diagnosis due to poorly equipped hospitals, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said that breast cancer is the most recurrently detected cancer among women.

According to the source, “1.38 million cases were diagnosed worldwide in 2008.” Unlike breast cancer is the most regularly reported cause of death among women in Nigeria, “Breast cancer survival rates vary greatly worldwide, ranging from 80% or more in North America, Sweden and Japan to around 60% in middle-income countries and less than 40% in low-income countries.”

The cost of the vaccine was said to be N21, 000 and cervical cancer is the 2nd biggest killer cancer of women in Nigeria after breast cancer. Despite the coordinated efforts through international public health agencies in tackling breast and cervical cancers affecting Nigerian women, casualties are on the increase due to poor access to hospital.

The Pink Pearl Foundation, a community-oriented organization that provides support, facilitates connections and empowers young women facing cancer, confirmed that Nigeria lags a proper healthcare system.

“Nigeria is ill equipped to deal with the complexities of cancer care. A wobbly health care infrastructure makes clinical services hard to come by and inadequately distributed. Only a few health centers have functioning radiotherapy equipment and the cost of care remains out of reach for most Nigerians who have received a cancer diagnosis."

There was however a recommendation by a Lagos-based Consultant Clinical & Radiation Oncologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Dr Omolola Salako, saying, “Every sexually active woman is at risk of contracting HPV and should adopt the habit of going for regular screening in order to detect the virus early.

“It takes only N7,000 to get a Pap smear test once in five years and N21, 000 to get vaccinated for life. But when the infection has been allowed to grow into full blown cancer, one is not even sure of curing it with N500,000.”

For Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka who disclosed in 2014 that he’s a cancer survivor, “The important thing is that I am convinced that we have enough funds in this nation to build cancer centres, including research that this nation requires. It is very capital intensive, some of it, but there are many ways and treatments for cancer just like there are many kinds of cancer. Even diet forms an important part. Diet is critical.”

Odimegwu Onwumere writes from Rivers State. Tel: +2348032552855. Email: [email protected]