By Muhammad Amaan
The Federal Government of Nigeria has earmarked the sum of N200m for the treatment of cancer patients in the 2024 Appropriation Act, contained in the Cancer Health Fund.
The Minister of State for Health, Dr Tunji Alausa, disclosed this during a media conference to commemorate the 2024 World Cancer Day (WCD) in Abuja.
The WCD is an international day marked annually on February 4 to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
Between 2022 and 2024, the focus of the global observance was to help ‘Close the Cancer Gap’ and the theme for 2024 is ‘Together, We Challenge Those In Power.’
They all focus on the global demand for leaders to prioritise and invest in cancer prevention and care, and to do more to achieve a just and cancer-free world.
The minister noted that the said Federal Government had put in N1.3bn into the CHF in the last four years to enhance the treatment of indigent patients.
Dr Alausa said though the fund would not be enough to do what is needed to take care of Nigerians, the ministry was mobilising funds through a sector-wide approach by involving private sector participation.
He said, “That is not what we need to take care of the large burden of the disease that we face. We are working on mobilizing a substantial amount of money from two various pathways.
“The Health Sector Renewal Initiative, the big focus of that is sector-wide approach. This will enable us to mobilise funds and coordinate the current fragmentation we have in our healthcare system.
“We have the Basic Health Care Provision Fund, which is one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund but that is not enough to meet the healthcare needs of our vulnerable group and the people that need it the most.”
The minister added that the ministry would collaborate with development partners to direct funds to where it was needed for better coordination to avoid duplication.
He explained, “As we mobilise some of the funds from our development partners as well as the funds from the BHCPF, we will direct more to Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) and the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA).
“The move is to enable us to cover all patients as we move into the year, and we are fortunate to have a supplementary budget; we will advocate for more funding to be directed to the healthcare sector.”
Alausa further said that the recently created National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment had been mandated by law to provide leadership in the area of cancer research and treatment.
He noted that for better coordination, the ministry recently moved the CHF being coordinated and housed in the ministry to NICRAT to provide prompt and unhindered access to indigent Nigerians who needed it for efficiency, particularly timeliness and sustainability.
The minister, however, gave an assurance that the ministry would continue to provide its oversight and policy direction for the fund.
Highlighting some of the steps taken to address cancer challenges in the country, he mentioned primary prevention through vaccination, early detection, prompt treatment and research.
According to him, the ministry, through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) is leading the Human Papilloma Virus vaccination for primary prevention of cancer of the cervix.
Dr Alausa added, “It is also carrying out hepatitis immunisation for prevention of liver cancers.
“Vaccination for viral hepatitis has been on the national programme on immunisation, HPV Vaccination was commenced in 2023.
“I, hereby, enjoin parents, opinion leaders and indeed all stakeholders to take advantage of the immunisation programmes. The vaccine is free, very safe and highly efficacious in preventing these cancers.”
The minister also said that the NHIA Act 2022 had made health insurance mandatory for all Nigerians and, therefore had been mandated through a guideline to enrol all Nigerians including cancer patients into health insurance.
“The NHIA will ultimately manage funding for cancer care in the future, to avoid duplication of roles in terms of purchase of services for all patients.
“Recently, the operational guideline of the NHIA Act was launched to pave the way for the full operationalisation of the Act, which also provides for funding for vulnerable Nigerians including cancer patients,” he added.
The minister also said that to improve access to cancer care services, the government was establishing six new cancer centres of excellence in the following hospitals across the six geopolitical zones with brachytherapy machines and other equipment.
They are the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu (South-East); Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria; Federal Teaching Hospital, Katsina (North-West); University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Benin (South-South) and Jos University Teaching Hospital, Jos (North Central).
Others are Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Lagos (South West), while the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, Maiduguri (North-East) was being upgraded.
He added that the ministry was currently implementing the National Policy on Hospice and Palliative Care and the National Policy on Chemotherapy Safety, which were launched in 2021.
The minister said, “This year is the midterm of their implementation; the ministry will take steps to review the level of implementation of the two policy documents with the view to ensuring optimal uptake by the healthcare providers across the country.”
Speaking about the 2024 World Cancer Day Theme, ‘Together, we can challenge those in power’, Alausa said that they have challenged themselves and have resolved to close the cancer care gap in Nigeria.