A unique perspective to Nigeria’s peculiar cancer management dilemma
Initially promised to be available in January, cancer patients at National Hospital Abuja would have to wait for ‘few months’ before the new radiotherapy machine donated by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO) will be available, Nigeria’s health minister announced on World Cancer Day.
To improve Nigerian cancer patients’ access to radiotherapy treatment, Nigeria’s health minister, Prof Isaac Adewole, late 2017announced that Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO) has donated a new linear accelerator (LINAC) radiotherapy equipment to the National Hospital Abuja.
But this is not to say that there is a problem with the order. Instead, the minister said the machine is already in Nigeria, suggesting that installation is yet to be complete.
This is not the only radiotherapy machine that Nigeria is adding to the available ones as the minister also revealed that the facility at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) should be offering full and uninterrupted services by June 2018.
“Despite these giant strides, the Minister regretted that there remained some factors militating against these efforts to effectively combat the scourge of cancer in Nigeria. The key barriers to treatment of cancer in Nigeria, the Minister said, included: Poor awareness, poor health seeking behaviour, low level of non-governmental investments, low number of skilled health care personnel, funding Gaps, among others,” the health ministry stated.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency‘s Directory of Radiotherapy Centres, there are three radiotherapy machines in Nigeria and this equates to 0.016 radiotherapy machines per 1 million people in Nigeria thus the IAEA believes Nigeria to be one of the countries most in need of more machines.
“Nigeria’s major cancer control success has been improvements in the availability of equipment for cancer treatment, including the installation of radiation equipment in eight hospitals. Given issues in maintaining the functionality of these facilities, the IAEA are assisting in the implementation of a curriculum for medical physicists to ensure quality control in radiotherapy centres,” IAEA stated.
In addition to improving access to radiotherapy machines, a 2016 study of patients at the Radiation Oncology Department at University College Hospital (UCH) in Oyo State, Nigeria revealed a new challenge – about 80% of patients were unable to afford radiotherapy without financial assistance while geographical access also played a critical part in a patient accessing radiotherapy.
Society of Oncology and Cancer Research Nigeria observed that the need for access to radiotherapy in Nigeria is critical. It noted that if Nigeria is able to make any progress in reducing the number of premature cancer deaths in the country, it must urgently address the access, infrastructure and human resource gaps in delivering radiotherapy treatment to cancer patients in Nigeria.
“This World Cancer Day, we call on governments, policy makers and authorities to continue to push for improved access to all cancer services and treatments, including radiotherapy,” the society stated.
On a global perspective, Yukiya Amano, IAEA Director General said cancer has reached epidemic proportions and is increasing at an alarming rate in developing countries.
“Nuclear techniques are key to addressing this global health issue, from prevention to palliation. The IAEA is firmly committed to helping its Member States to access high-quality radiotherapy and nuclear medicine services. On World Cancer Day, the IAEA will highlight advances in radiation medicine and outline its efforts to help make these available to patients throughout the world,” Amano said.
But for now, Nigeria’s approach is to get as many radiotherapy machines as possible to reduce stress on few available ones. Already, this is getting desired results as more partners are emerging to support the health ministry.
“The Niger Delta Development Company has also promised to install the same equipment at the teaching hospitals in the University of Uyo and University of Port respectively; while the Kano State Government has also signified its intention to purchase a brand new LINAC radiotherapy equipment,” the minister announced.