Former Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, has urged government and other stakeholders to set up framework to encourage early diagnosis and access to affordable treatment and management of cancer.
He made the call at the official unveiling of the National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment (NICRAT) and the Technical Working Group and Oncology Stakeholders Meeting in Abuja on Tuesday.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that NICRAT, which was established under the NICRAT Act of 2017 is charged with the responsibility of providing national leadership in cancer research, treatment and control, among other things.
Adewole, therefore, said early diagnosis, affordable treatment and management of the disease is essential because late presentation is one of the leading cause of cancer deaths in the country.
He added that “data has also shown that the cost of cancer treatment and management is not in sync with the income of most Nigerians suffering from the disease.”
The former minister, however, said that having such a framework in place would prevent late-stage diagnosis and help those suffering from the scourge to get proper treatment.
He said “it is good that the country’s healthcare system is tilting toward Universal Health Coverage (UHC) with the establishment of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) and health insurance schemes under the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) at both the national and state levels.
“There is need to integrate cancer care into all UHC programmes since poor Nigerians cannot pay out of pocket.
“This framework must ensure Nigerians, irrespective of location, get unfettered access to healthcare services for diagnosis, treatment and management of cancer, while government expands the Cancer Health Fund and set aside resources from the insurance pool funding to tackle their challenges.”
According to Adewole, cancer has become a global health issue of concern, given the associated increased mortality and disability caused by it.
He added that early diagnosis of the disease is important for treatment options, but countries like Nigeria lack access to early diagnosis, which often result to higher mortality rate.
The ex-minister quoted the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) 2023 factsheet as indicating that the ccountry has a population of 60.9 million women from age 15 who are at risk of developing cervical cancer.
He said “current estimate indicates that 12,075 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 7,368 die from the disease every year.
“Majority of these cancer cases are first diagnosed in hospitals in advanced stage when definitive cure is no longer feasible.”
He also said that the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates the top five commonest types of cancers in Nigeria as breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and liver cancer.
‘”These cancer types and the other less common ones kill about 80,000 Nigerians every year,” he added.
He, however, said that the strategic direction to prevent cancer in Nigeria is to ensure political will and commitment, evolve policies and programmes and generate local evidence toward tackling the ailment.
Adewole, who urged the newly established institute to mobilise investment in cancer research and care and avoid taking on the role of teaching hospitals, implored NICRAT to understand key information on common cancers and review existing data on hospital and population studies.
“Avoid dependence on only government resources or engaging only on routine cancer care services,” he advised.
The Director-General of NIRCAT, Prof. Usman Aliyu, said that the strategic focus of the institute is to regulate and enhance access to cancer care in Nigeria, establish and maintain a cancer registry.
He added that it is also to spearhead research and development in cancer prevention and control and ensure public education and awareness creation.
Aliyu said the meeting brought together diverse group of experts, healthcare professionals, researchers, policymakers, pharmaceutical companies, patient advocates and many others who had dedicated their lives to combating cancer.
“Your presence here reflects your unwavering commitment to making a difference in the lives of those affected by this disease.
“Today’s agenda provides a unique opportunity to network, establish new partnerships and strengthen existing relationships. The power of collaboration cannot be overstated,” the director-general said.(NAN)