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Monday, June 24, 2024

How Nigerian cancer patients pay with their blood

I am always a fighter for the weak and a voice for the voiceless. I want you all to join me. Cancer may have hit someone that you know, your dad, your mum, friend, sister or brother, who knows the next person.

A radiotherapy machine

Recently, I went to the National Hospital in Abuja for an LOC meeting and, after the meeting, I went straight to the oncology ward to see a senior friend, who is an oncologist. After the meeting with the senior friend, on my way out, Kelechi Glory Obioma, a student nurse, called me to greet a cervical cancer patient.

As a psychologist, I quickly engaged her; I tried everything possible to get this amazing woman to receive a dose of psychotherapy (psychological support, trying to make her smile). It didn’t work. She was in pain! She has been bleeding for months. She has been taking chemotherapy! She has been off and on the oncology ward.

She needs radiotherapy.

She was booked for radiotherapy at the National Hospital Abuja; she was on the machine when the radiotherapy machine broke down. She later travelled to the Ahmadu Bello Teaching Hospital, Zaria for radiotherapy. On arrival, the machine broke down. They told her that they would call her when the machine is back.

Few weeks later, the machine was fixed. Off course, she planned to travel back to Zaria, unfortunately, she needed to wait for another extra 12 weeks before it gets to her turn. Why? Several cancer patients were already waiting for the same machine. Some of the cancer patients came from Port Harcourt, Maiduguri, Talata Mafara in Zamfara State, Oba in Anambra State, Kwara and others.

As at August, 18, 2017, there is only one/two or no single radiotherapy machine that is owned by the Nigerian government that is working. The only machine that is working is privately owned in Lagos. The very old EKO Hospital. Well, thanks to EKO Hospital. I have seen so many cancer patients with their millions of naira to receive care, but the cancer treatment machines are down. Oh God. What have cancer patients done wrong?

Nigerians who present cancer of any form are clearly on their own. Why? Our government does not care. They are not interested in you. They can afford the care abroad. This is the rational for over 70% of Nigerians living with cancer die in less than five years (in my estimation). Currently, I work with over 28 breast cancer patients and survivors. In the last one month, I have lost one. Calculate this.

It is a shame that we cannot fix a core oncology care. Any top politician who gets some headache, he or she get on a British Airways to London or get on Lufthansa to United States. They don’t go to India; India is for the boys and girls. There is an urgent need to fix medical infrastructures in Nigeria if we desire to save lives and our economy. Investing in healthcare is the greatest business. Only healthy people can work in other sectors.

For instance, in 2013 alone, India granted medical visas to 40,000 patients and medical dependents in Nigeria. As a nation, Nigeria is losing millions of dollars and national reputation to medical tourism. Nigerians are now traveling to Ghana for radiotherapy treatment. Do you know that the radiotherapy machine in Ghana and many other African countries were set-up by Nigerian radiation oncologists? Well, Ghana is now the new India; Ghana is now the destination for medical tourism.

Few months ago, it took three to seven days to get a medical visa to India. Today, it takes three to four weeks and, sometimes, a rejection. Where is the hope?

We live in a country where millions of dollars is stolen and sometimes recovered. Can we use the recovered money to fix cancer treatment machine? Fix Nigeria’s medical infrastructures. It is only healthy people that can build a better economy, it is only healthy people that can secure Nigeria and otherwise. WHO IARC recommended one radiotherapy machine for 1,000,000 people, invariably; we need 200 machines for a population of over 180 million. Currently, we have only seven7 centres. The entire seven centres are not working properly. 1 to 2 centres work a week on and months off.

Every year Nigerian doctors are leaving Nigeria, because of the frustration in the healthcare sector. We cannot grow any sector, if we don’t grow the healthcare sector. A farmer cannot farm if he is ill, an engineer cannot fix power if he is ill and there is not doctor or machine to treat him or her. Almost all the cancer survivors that I know received their treatment abroad.

My message is simple!

The federal and state governments of Nigeria should make cancer control a national health priority. For a country of over 160 million to be having just one/two (or no) single radiotherapy machine is the worst form of health injustice and inhuman act. If truly health is a human right, then let’s give cancer patients the right to survive.

By Runcie C. W. Chidebe (Cancer Control Advocate; @runciecwc)

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