CANCER CARE GAP IN NIGERIA.
Chidinma, a lady in her late 30s, suffered a complication of breast cancer that needed emergency treatment. Fluids had accumulated around her lungs and she could no longer breathe on her own. The cost of getting oxygen for 2 full weeks drained everything she and her family had left and in the end she could not resume her cancer treatment. This eventually resulted in her death
She had noticed a hard lump in her left breast one year earlier. She ignored it thinking it would go away but it didn’t. After a while she decided to resort to traditional medicine which didn’t work either. By this time, the lump had grown bigger and she decided to go to the general hospital close to where she lived. It took hours before she was able to see a doctor. The doctor examined her and told her he suspected cancer and referred her to a specialist in the teaching hospital. She went the next day but she couldn’t get an appointment because the teaching hospital had only one oncologist and he had so many patients to see. She was able to finally meet him after one week. He recommended some tests for her which were expensive since she earned a teacher’s salary. However she was able to raise.
the money for it and was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her treatment involved radiotherapy and surgery. However in the hospital there was no functioning radiotherapy machine, so she had to travel to another state with a functioning machine to get treatment.
The cost of regular interstate travel plus treatment was a lot of for her and her family to handle. This caused her to miss scheduled radiotherapy sessions occasionally and according to her doctors eventually led to her complication. Unable to continue her radiotherapy as the emergency had drained all she had left, She returned to herbal treatments and eventually died from breast cancer.
This story highlights some of the many problems with accessing cancer treatment in Nigeria. Less than 90 oncologists in the country and they have to attend to more than 100000 patients. GLOBACAN estimates that Nigeria recorded 124, 000 new cases of cancer in 2020, out of which 78, 000 people died. There are only seven cancer treatment facilities in the country out of which only three have functioning radiotherapy machines. There is also the poor maintenance culture and dearth of qualified personnel to operate the machines. People can't afford treatments and there are basically no existing organizations helping to fund cancer treatment. Even the government is not funding cancer treatment. Also, patients often present late to the hospital in stage 3 or 4 of the cancer leading to smaller chances of survival.
In this month of February, our focus is to close the cancer care gap. Now that we have identified the gaps in cancer care in Nigeria. The big question is what are we going to do about it?