By Asmau Ahmad
The Nigeria’s Federal Government said it is making plans to make the Cancer Health Fund (CHF) available for more cancers.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire said this on Tuesday in Abuja at the opening ceremony of the 2022 International Cancer Week (ICW).
The event had “Bridging the Cancer Care Gap: Improving Diagnosis and Multidisciplinary Management” as its theme.
Ehanire was represented by the Minister of State for Health, Mr Joseph Ekumankama.
“We are currently taking steps to expand the CHF to additional six centres in order to improve access to the fund nationwide and to make it as close to the people as possible.
“We are also taking steps to make the fund available for more cancers especially in children instead of limiting it to the cancers of breast, cervix and prostate,” Ehanire said.
He also said that more than 1,500 indigent cancer patients had so far registered in the six pilot hospitals already administering treatment.
He also said that more than 400 cancer patients had started receiving treatment under the CHF initiative.
The fund which is contributory and domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), was created by the Federal Government to reduce the burden of cancer treatment for Nigerians could not afford it.
Ehanire said that the Ministry of Health and its partners had continued to improve access to cancer treatment through the Cancer Access Partnership (CAP) programme.
He also said that more than 2,000 patients already enrolled in 17 hospitals with additional six hospitals at the final stages of activation before the end of 2022.
Ehanire said that diagnosis was one of the major challenges in oncology practice in Nigeria due to paucity of pathology specialists and limited capacity for immunohistochemistry and other specialised investigations.
He said that the federal government was already mapping out training programmes in collaboration with various partners to improve the capacity of healthcare workers.
The minister, however, said that the National Cancer Control Plan (2018-2022), which expired in July, boosted the actualisation of the objectives of the federal government in the fight against cancer in Nigeria.
The Country Director, World Health Organisation (WHO), Mr Walter Mulombo, said that every year, Africa records around 1.1 million new cases of cancer resulting in up to 700,000 deaths.
According to him, breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, liver and colorectal cancers account for almost all of the new cases on the continent annually.
“Children are also inequitably impacted with more than 400,000 diagnosed annually for cancer around the world, 90 per cent live in low- and middle-income countries, survival rates are very low at 20 per cent or less in African countries compared to more than 80 per cent in developed nations.
“A renewed effort to curb new cancer is urgent, alarming projections are that cancer death rates in Africa will rise exponentially over the next 20 years.
“Common challenges facing the region includes limited access to primary prevention, early detection services, lack of awareness and education in addition to delays in diagnosis and treatment.”
According to Mulombo, Africa has only three per cent of the world’s cancer treatment facility with radiotherapy available in just 22 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which contributes to poor survival rates.
He, however, said that WHO was committed to supporting a number of key initiatives and continue its collaboration with Nigeria to address issues regarding cancer.
Wife of Kebbi State Governor, Mrs Zainab Bagudu, said that Nigeria was indeed ready to address the issues of cancer and that the political will to carry out the task was also present.
Bagudu, who is also the Chairperson, First Ladies Against Cancer, added that the skills and the intellectuals to help solve the issue of cancer in the country were also readily available.
She, however, said that just a little bit more support and guidance was needed to achieve the desired results.
The President, Nigerian Cancer Society (NCS), Dr Adamu Umar, noted that the amendment of the National Health Insurance Act making it National Health Insurance Authority would enhance cancer care in Nigeria.
This, he said, was because universal health coverage was the only way to achieve comprehensive care for cancer.
He also said that the projected eight per cent allotted for healthcare in the proposed 2023 Appropriation Bill was a very big achievement and that it was the only way universal health coverage could be achieved.
The ICW is meant to foster collaboration between the federal government and states, and between government and Non-Governmental Organisations to stem the scourge of cancer in Nigeria.