As we speak, one woman is dying from breast cancer, says ‘cancer doctor’ Akanbi

Breast cancer alone kills at least 40 women in one day, including one at the moment, Saidat Abisola Akanbi, a public health professional and Founder of Cancer CareLink, has said.

Speaking with the ICIR on Monday, Akanbi identified late diagnosis as the main reason for the deaths, saying treatment is no longer effective at the late stage of the disease.

“Breast and cervical cancers are the commonest reasons why women die from cancer in Nigeria,” she says.

“Did you know that breast cancer alone kills at least 40 women in one day and as we speak, one woman is dying from breast cancer? Our women are dying because they present themselves to hospitals at late stages of the disease, when the cancer has spread and the treatment is not very effective.

“But then, why do they present late? There are three major reasons. They lack access to correct information — information about what cancer is, about prevention, about early signs and methods of detection.

“They lack access to healthcare and that is probably linked to the third reason, which is that they lack access to funds, access to financial power to procure healthcare.

“Our women are not on National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), and anyway, the NHIS does not cover cancer care. So women are left to fight the disease alone; in other words, the woman who has cancer and her family are left to raise the funds; they are left to battle a diagnosis of cancer.”

For these reasons, Akanbi, whose several years of professional experience in the healthcare sector includes operational, clinical and research activities spanning Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and United Kingdom, decided to establish Cancer CareLink.

Dr. Akanbi (middle, with soldiers)

“Cancer CareLink is acting as a link between these under-insured women in under-served communities and we are trying to put them in contact with those three things that are lacking in our communities,” she says.

“Those three things that are lacking in our community — correct information, healthcare and funds — are what we did with the 2,000Breasts Initiative, our mobile breast cancer clinic.”

One Saturday in July, the nongovernmental organisation had close to 50 health professionals in Ibadan attend to 200 women from General Gas, Alegongo, Akobo-Ojurin and Olorunda axis.

The activities at the session included routine checkups, such as blood pressure and blood glucose checks, followed by a health education session on breast cancer, plus a training session on early detection of breast cancer early.

“There was a spotlight, that is, there was a survivor who shared the emotional story of what she had gone through on her journey,” Akanbi says.

“This survivor is a 30-year-old lady whom Cancer CareLink had helped identify, diagnose and support through treatment. After this survivor talked, there was then hands-on treatment of the women in attendance, and provision of investigations.

“The investigations included breast ultrasound and biopsies, and we offered all these services free of charge. We were able to identify a couple of women; one of them obviously had a breast cancer, and for us, our work has just begun, as we will be working to support and ensure that these women that were picked would get prompt quality treatment.”

Before taking up the cancer challenge, Akanbi earned her medical degree from the University of Ibadan in 2010, after which she received a Master’s in Public Health from the same university.

She proceeded for another Master’s (MSc in International Health and Tropical Medicine) from the University of Oxford, where she graduated with Distinction.

An ExxonMobil Global Health Scholar and a President Bill Clinton Global Initiative fellow, Akanbi has worked with the University College Hospital, Nigerian Army, President’s Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Oxford Health Systems Collaboration (OHSCAR), Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)-Wellcome Trust, and currently a Health Systems Consultant with LoftyInc Allied Health Partners.

She is a member of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), and a licenced Practitioner of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), Saidat is a UK STEM Ambassador, and co-founder of HealthySTEM initiative, which leverages a network of female STEM role models to equip schoolgirls in Nigeria’s under-served communities with tips to stay healthy and pursue STEM careers.

Akanbi dreams of a Nigeria where every woman — even the poorest and in the most remote areas — has access to all the resources and care required to prevent or combat cancer.

“CCL’s mission is to connect under-insured women in Nigeria’s under-served communities with the resources needed for preventing and combating breast and cervical cancers, and provides grassroots leadership through advocacy and awareness,” she says.

“Our reasoning/justification is that breast and cervical cancers are the commonest cancers in Nigeria and a major killer of Nigerian women. In developed countries, fewer and fewer women are dying from this disease, but in Nigeria, more women continue to die. This cannot continue.”



    Akanbi’s 2,000Breasts Initiative, a mobile breast clinic, convenes 50 healthcare professionals to a selected community in Nigeria to create awareness, educate and train women on breast self-examination and early symptoms of breast cancer, and offers them clinical breast examinations, breast ultrasound and biopsy.

    “There was one woman with a conclusive diagnosis of breast cancer, the other four had lumps and other signs and are awaiting results of investigations to establish if they are benign (non-cancer) or cancerous,” she says of the initiative’s last activity.

    “We would be taking the walk with them, counselling and reassuring them as they await investigation results. Once these are out, we facilitate treatment for each of them, connecting them to leading health centres where they will receive definitive treatment.

    “For those who cannot afford care, CCL hopes to support them by linking them to willing sponsors. Our role is to be a link between these women and healthcare professionals, diagnostic investigations, funds and healthcare.”

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