As cancer continues to affect millions in Nigeria, Odimegwu Onwumere believes government is to blame…

The inability of the government to refurbish medical centres with modern radiotherapy machines has led to many cancer patients squirm their teeth in anguish while others have died.

Derisory attendance of government in the equipment of laboratories in the country has been fingered as part of the major causes of the rise in cancer cases in the recent times.

“Thousands of cancer patients are currently facing death nationwide, following a breakdown of all the radiotherapy machines at treatment centres in the country,” reported by the media in September.

They whispered that contemporary cancer machines use a single amount of extremely watchful radiation, intended to obliterate only the tumour and not other areas of the body not affected by the disease.

“The expected lifespan of a linear accelerator is 10 years, and older machines are considered outdated and incapable of delivering modern radiotherapy techniques linked to better patient outcomes,” they said.

A consultant Paediatric Haematologist and Oncologist, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Prof. Edamisan Temiye in an interview with a national broadsheet accused the government of its incapacitation to give the country constant electricity light as the major reason the ‘superseded’ machines continue to breakdown.

“The second thing we need to do is to tackle electricity problems. Like the ones we have in LUTH and other centres, you are not supposed to shut them down. They are supposed to work for 24 hours.

“Once you shut them down and restart you are causing problems for them. So electricity supply is a big issue. If we can get good electricity supply and then good maintenance, it will reduce failure of treatments and improve outcomes as well as increase survival rates in the country,” Temiye said.

Temiye was angry that the government had no justifiable reason to give one radiotherapy machine to one government hospital in the first place. “A serious hospital should at least have two or three machines so that when you relieve one and you maintain it, the other one would be in operation. When it is only one machine that continues to work for a long time, it will break down and the cost of repair is high,” Temiye said.

The expression of shock by the media was that hardly is there any new cancer machines at the centres “such as The Gamma Knife machines fit for the 21st Century so that Nigerians can have access to the latest advanced radiotherapy techniques that target the cancer and cause less damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

“The development, which has persisted for years, has become unmanageable in the last few weeks as a result of alarm raised by patients and their relatives who throng the centres daily,” the source said.

At the Federal University of Technology of Minna, (FUT), Niger State, in October, the once unruffled hall turned agitated on hearing that cancer has exterminated some lecturers of the institute in a lecture with theme – early detection and timely management of cancer: solution to graceful ageing – delivered by the wife of Niger State Governor and founder of Raise Foundation, Dr. Amina Abubakar Sani Bello at the institute. In the highlight of that, there’s the apprehension that cancer deaths among women will rise by 2030 to 60 per cent especially breast cancer, even as there has been a warning that women with numerous sex partners are elevated threat of cervical cancer

The American Cancer Society and Lancet Studies made this known on November 1, 2016, at the World Cancer Congress in Paris, saying that the cancer upsurge will be widespread among women in poor and middle-income countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Mongolia and Papua New Guinea having the uppermost death rates. Other countries in Africa like Nigeria were not excluded. Globally, an estimated number of 5.5 million women are going to have cancer by 2030. A number, authorities have said, is greater than the population of Denmark. Records show that some 80 percent of cancer patients do not make it out of the percentage that is victim. The reason has not been unconnected to breakdown of order in the management of cancer related cases in Nigeria.

According to a source, “Experts gathered that the cancer machines at the National Hospital Abuja, NHA, Lagos University Teaching Hospitals, LUTH, University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, including others in health institutions in Gombe, Enugu, Benin, Sokoto among others, have been breaking down frequently due to wear and tear and lack of maintenance.”

Why Nigeria has not buckled up to arrest cancer still baffles opinion leaders given that millions of naira have been pumped into the fight against cancer. In many hospitals, patients have complained about poor attitudes of medical practitioners towards them in the course of medical checks, apart from the deafening shallow state of hospitals in the country. There had been upgraded hospitals, like the ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo did in 2003, by making 14 Federal Teaching hospitals across the country to attain the state-of-the-art medical paraphernalia, which he buzzed out with N29 billion VAMED project, but they went back to the sullied background they were once raised up from.

According to the source, “Eight Teaching Hospitals considered for the 1st phase included the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Zaria; University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan; University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH), Port Harcourt; and University of Maiduguri (UMTH), Maiduguri.

“Others were University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu; Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Lagos; University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH), Ilori, Kwara State and the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), Jos, Plateau State.

“The six Teaching Hospitals in the 2nd phase were at the universities of Ife, Benin, Sokoto, Kano, Calabar and Nnewi. Of the 14 Teaching Hospitals shortlisted, seven were equipped with the new cancer treatment machines but over decade later, none of the machines is in good working condition.”

At the end of its 52nd Annual Scientific Conference and workshop in Jalingo, the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) frowned that the disease, on its menu, has gulped over 2 million victims with some hundreds of thousands of new cases reported annually, whereas modern Radiotherapy ought to have helped.

Alhaji Toyosi Raheem, the President of the group did not show smiling teeth, when he said, “We call on the federal government to fully equip the cancer centre and programme it has established with adequate human and infrastructural resources. The government has to integrate Nigerian Medical Laboratory Scientists into the Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) and Save One Million lives Initiative of the Federal Government.”

The connoisseurs’ judgments however suggested that early dictation is panacea to sustenance and that people should avoid sedentary lifestyle and processed foods to assuage the occurrence of cancer; they also accused the federal government of paying disinterest approach to integrate Nigerian Medical Laboratory Scientists into the Rapid Results Initiative (RRI). Hence, Raheem called on the government seriously, to do the needful, because one million lives have to be saved in Nigeria from cancer.

Odimegwu Onwumere is an award-winning journalist based in Rivers State. Tel: +2348032552855. E-mail: apoet_25@yahoo.com

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How government is aiding cancer proliferation in Nigeria

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