February 4 is marked annually as World Cancer Day (WCD) to promote awareness on cancer as a public health issue and to strengthen actions towards improving access to quality cancer care, including: screening, early detection, treatment and palliative care.
Cancer is indeed, a public health issue of major concern, given the very grim numbers. Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, representing nearly 1 in 6 deaths globally. According to WHO, 10 million people die each year from cancer; more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. By 2030, it is projected that cancer deaths will rise to 13 million, if we don’t act to close the care gap.
Cancer is a major cause of geographic, racial, social and gender inequality. About 70% of cancer deaths occur in developing nations like Nigeria due to lack of access to basic cancer care infrastructure by many. In Africa, about 1.1 million new cancer cases occur each year, with about 700,000 deaths. Without urgent and bold interventions, there will be a considerable increase in cancer mortality in Africa, to nearly a million deaths per year by 2030. In sub-Saharan Africa, childhood cancer occurs in 56 out of every million persons and it is projected that Africa will account for about half of the total global childhood cancer burden by 2050.
Nigeria has an estimated 124,815 new cases and 78,899 cancer deaths, yearly. The most common cancers in adult Nigerians include breast (22.7 %), prostate (12.3 %), cervical (9.7%), Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (5.9 %), and liver (4.2%) cancers, contributing to more than half of the new cancer cases.
2023 is the second year of the “close the care gap” campaign, which is about understanding the inequities in cancer care and taking action to make the necessary progress to address them. It is an opportunity to examine the socioeconomic factors that lead to disparities in cancer prevention, incidence and survival, such as cultural and gender norms, income and education levels, and biases based on age, gender, ethnicity, disability and lifestyle.
In Africa, the major obstacles in the care gap include: the low availability of Population-Based Cancer Registries; limited health promotion; inadequate access to primary prevention and early detection services; the scarcity of diagnostic and therapeutic facilities that increase delays in diagnosis and treatment. Provision of palliative care is rare in Africa, in spite of the significant need for it. Africa has only 3% of the world’s cancer treatment facilities, with radiotherapy available in just 22 sub-Saharan African nations, contributing to very low survival rates.
By uniting voices and action, we can address cancer at individual and community levels: Choosing healthy lifestyles, getting vaccinated and routine screening against preventable cancers. Above all, there is an urgent need for everyone to unite in support of the effort to establish world-class infrastructure for cancer care and training for the cancer workforce, which is accessible to all, irrespective of their financial status.
A Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC) is the only institution that can optimally tackle all the spectrums of cancer carer. The CCC is NOT a hospital with a radiotherapy machine. Rather, it is a world-class, stand-alone tertiary health institution, with all its units focused solely on cancer care. The CCC houses first-class cancer research, preventive, curative and palliative care in one place resulting in better outcomes across a range of measures – including, most importantly, cancer survival.
In this regard, most nations are far ahead of Nigeria. For instance, India has over 200 CCC – most of which are philanthropy-funded non-profits. African nations that have CCC include Egypt, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya and Sudan. Nigeria has no CCC. No, not one. Therefore, while other nations are in a position to work towards “closing the care gap” our herculean task here in Nigeria amounts to bridging an ever-widening chasm in cancer care.
Nigerians now spend over one billion dollars on foreign treatment annually, an amount sufficient to establish twenty (20) CCC every year. Unfortunately, most Nigerians who go abroad for treatment end up dying because of late diagnosis and delay in intervention. Moreover, unforeseen situations (such as the COVID-19 lockdown) may make it impossible to go on medical tourism, even if one could afford it.
↓↑GivingTide uses the opportunity of this year’s WCD to once again call on everyone, collectively and individually, to commit to the effort towards closing the cancer care gap by supporting the BIG WAR Against Cancer.
↓↑GivingTide is an initiative to promote concerted and catalytic philanthropy. To this end, ↓↑GivingTide has established the ↓↑GivingTide Global Trust, which is managed by FBNQuest Trustees, a subsidiary of FBN holdings. Its current focal cause is the BIG WAR Against Cancer, which is operated by the National Cancer Prevention Programme (NCPP), a nongovernmental initiative of mass medical mission. Since 2007, NCPP has spearheaded community-based cancer prevention across Nigeria.
In 2017, a fleet of Mobile Cancer Centres (MCC) was acquired and deployed, to great effect. To further bridge the chasm, the stable Health Initiative (a FREE annual cancer/health screening coupled with a free emergency ambulance service) was launched on World Health Day 2022. Interested participants are invited to take advantage of this initiative by registering via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ultimate goal of the project is to establish Nigeria’s first CCC. If one in seven Nigerians donated only
n1,000 (one thousand naira) each to the ↓↑GivingTide Trust, Nigeria’s first ccc would be ready within seven months. Therefore, there is no reason for the chasm in cancer care. Together, it is possible!
Let’s ACT! (Attack Cancer Today! Attack Cancer Together!! Attack Cancer Totally).
Dr. Abia Nzelu (Executive Secretary, ↓↑GivingTide International); can be reached via email@example.com