This is a wakeup call because the scourge of cancer in the whole of Nigeria is real; the government is simply not doing enough to tackle this disease headlong with all the will it got at its disposal.
Cancer is a very expensive ailment to manage and when a good majority of Nigerians are below the poverty belt, then there is need for government intervention at all levels of health care in this country to deal with this scourge.
Cancer has dealt a heavy blow to many Nigerians both rich and poor alike. It does not select its patients, it preys on both the rich and poor and mercilessly squeezes life out of its victims with the attendants pains associated with it.
Just take a look on the face of a cancer patient and see the level of pain, frustration and disappointment it portrays.
In a country where cancer is a death sentence, where do patients run to and what do their relatives and friends do in order to alleviate their pains.
According to information made available to OSUN DEFENDER, there are only four cancer radiotherapy [RT] machines in the country and these can be found at EKO Hospital, Lagos, University College Hospital [UCH], Ibadan, Oyo State, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital [ABUTH], Zaria, Kaduna State and National Hospital, Abuja.
Of all three, only the machine at the National Hospital, Abuja could be said to be functioning very well and so by implication, only one RT is serving the lot of cancer patients in the country.
Most of the cancer patients are at the mercy of many obstacles which present themselves as the peculiar Nigerian problem.
These problems are numerous to mention. If medical doctors are not on strike, allied health workers would be, if the system is not crying of corruption, funds made available for the supply, purchase of those delicate medical equipments are either being siphoned or used to buy substandard ones.
Reality is the diagnosis of cancer is not a sentence to death but because the Nigerian government is so insensitive to the health sector, many factors have combined to make this disease a death sentence.
In the whole of the South West, Nigeria, it is only at the University College Hospital, Ibadan in Oyo state that the RT machine can even be used for palliative treatment. Meaning, the disease would just be managed until the patient dies later.
You can imagine a situation where, there is no RT machine in the whole of Osun State; the three teaching hospitals in the state; OAUTHC, Ile-Ife, LTH Osogbo and State of Osun Teaching Hospital, Osogbo. The scenario is that, if a patient is diagnosed of the disease after going through the numerous tests, depending on the stage of the disease, some course of treatment like surgery could be carried out in the state but in the case of advanced treatment, such a patient will be referred to the UCH, Ibadan or better still LUTH or LASUTH in Lagos.
The irony is, in these hospitals, no connection, no radiotherapy, patients just resort to prayers for the repair of the radiotherapy machines and in others helping patients to see doctors is a lucrative business
200 Million People, Four Radiotherapy Machines
According to recent investigations carried out by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting [ICiR], “there are only four functioning radiotherapy machines all over the country to serve an estimated 200million Nigerians, yet the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recommendation is one RT machine per 1million people, meaning Nigeria should ordinarily have roughly 200 RT machines.
To put the situation in perspective, 17 of Nigeria’s 20 teaching hospitals cannot offer radiotherapy to cancer patients.
“Painfully, of the four radiotherapy machines available all over Nigeria, only the one at the National Hospital Abuja’s is useful for curing cancer; all other three cannot. They are only useful prolonging a patient’s life; more like ‘you’re going to die anyway but let’s try not to make you die too soon”, explained Dr. C. W. Chidiebe, a cancer control advocate and Executive Director, Project Pink Blue.
“The radiotherapy machines at Zaria and Eko hospital are cobalt machines. I have interacted with so many medical physicists, clinical oncologists and radiation oncologists, and they will tell you that the beam produced by cobalt radiotherapy machines is not sufficient to prevent spread or even ensure any treatment or therapy; it is just good for palliative care only; that is the situation whereby you’re no longer trying to achieve cure but just to prolong the patient’s life.”