On 9th February, this year, President Muhammadu Buhari officially commissioned an ultra-modern cancer treatment centre in Lagos – executed through Public-Private-Partnership agreement by the Federal Government and Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority.
The ceremony, according to President Buhari, represents a bold step by his administration to fulfill its promise of establishing one cancer centre per geo-polilical zone in the country.
Revamping the nation’s health sector to provide long-term chronic care is very crucial and the concept of PPP is key to facilitating efficient and effective control of the deadly disease. However, setting up one cancer centre in nearly four years may not be the best of propositions to cover a country with a population of close to two hundred million.
No doubt, the alarming increase in cases of cancer in the country calls for government action in finding solutions to the steady and deadly rise of the disease in Nigeria.
According to the World Health Organisation’s recent statistics on cancer situation in Nigeria, more than two million Nigerians have some form of invasive cancer with an estimated 100, 000 diagnosed annually, of which at least 80, 000 die, making cancer one of the nation’s highest causes of death.
By implication, the latest figures indicate that at least 240 Nigerians every day or 10 Nigerians every hour die from cancer! The prohibitive cost of treatment of cancer and lack of education of the masses on the disease contribute to the steady rise in the prevalence rate of the disease.
For instance, most patients present themselves too late at hospital, when little or nothing can be done to save their lives. At the root of this lateness is that majority of the population do not know what the symptoms of cancer are, and may not have the resources to approach medical facilities.
More worrisome is that there is hardly enough facilities in the country to effectively carry out reliable screening of patients. Prior to the launch of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital centre by Mr. President last February, reports had it that only two diagnostic centres existed in the country.
We welcome the partnership initiative of the Federal Government in setting up modern facilities for the effective screening and treatment of cancer cases in the country. We also recognise that due to paucity of funds, government alone cannot foot the cost of setting up modern facilities because they are capital intensive projects.
But Nigerians cannot afford the cost of cancer care because it is very expensive. When it strikes, even the rich, are not insulated from the cost of treatment. It is therefore important for government to admit that cancer is now an issue of primary health concern and a major cause of pre-mature deaths of Nigerians.
To combat the menace, there is the urgent need for the institution of mandatory screening checks of Nigerians at local, state and national levels. The three tiers of government should synergise and faithfully pursue this national assignment without further delay.
Intensive enlightenment and awareness campaigns are desirable to enhance prevention of the rising cases of cancer among Nigerians. Therefore, government at various levels, religious, and community leaders have a role to play in this regard. The use of social media platforms including public media outfits could be of help.
It is unacceptable that politicians mount effective campaigns that gulp billions in naira terms during electioneering season but they look the other way when it comes to creating awareness on issues that bother on the general welfare of the masses when they assume office.
Also, to ensure that the greatest majority of Nigerians can access care regardless of their socio-economic status, government should look beyond setting up cancer centres that may be expensive for the less privileged segment of the society.
The plan by government to increase the number of cancer centres to reflect our geo-political configuration is in order, at least it makes accessibility to diagnosis and treatment more effective.
However, subsidising services that will be rendered at the cancer centres in such a way that they would be affordable to the greatest majority of the masses who suffer cancer is what would make government involvement in the PPP arrangement a worthwhile decision.