WITH a population of about 200 million people, Nigeria has fewer than 50 medical professionals who are specialists in cancer treatment, says Runcie Chidebe, Executive Director of Project Pink Blue, a cancer-fighting organisation.
To address the skill gap, the organisation in collaboration with the US Embassy in Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Health is currently training 44 medical personnel in medical oncology.
“For an incidence of over 103, 000 cancer cases and over 100,000 cancer deaths every, 50 oncologists are not enough,” Chidebe told journalists at the opening ceremony of the training in Abuja on Tuesday.
He suggested that the government should invest in non-communicable diseases, especially cancer and get more doctors to go on training to become oncologists.
He said many cancer patients in Nigeria suffer excruciating pains because the cancers are often diagnosed at late stage, adding that the patients cannot be cured of cancer at that advanced stage but can be better managed.
David Atuwo, the National Coordinator of Cancer Control Programme at the Federal Ministry of Health, said the attitude of Nigerians is the major setback in the fight against cancer.
“Most people are in denial; it is not my portion. It is nobody’s portion but it happens,” Atuwo said.
“So, late presentation in our environment is the greatest cause of cancer deaths. If we catch cancer early, we can adequately treat it. But you find out that before our people present themselves to the hospital, these cancers are in stage three and four. Anywhere in the world, what can you do with those stages?”
Atuwo pointed out that universal healthcare is crucial in the fight against cancer so that people can have access to treatment without paying out of pocket.
A participant at the training, Jumai Jimeta from the Almadu Bello University Teaching Zaria said the training has been very educating as she had the opportunity to interact with oncologists from different parts of the country and learned from each other.
Jimeta said paucity of radiotherapy facilities is one of the major challenges on the treatment of cancer patients as only National Hospital and Eco Hospital currently have functional radiotherapy treatment in the country.
One of the training facilitators, Tracey O’Connor, medical oncologist and associate professor at Rosswell Park Cancer Institute in the US, said early screening and detection will make a huge difference in the fight against cancer in Nigeria.
“The biggest difference between the US and Nigeria is the huge number of patients with the advanced and incurable disease because of the absence of readily available screening programmes,” O’Connor said.
She added that if screening programmes can be successfully implemented, it will be the biggest step towards fighting cancer because early diagnosis leads to a much better outcome.
The medical oncology training is focused on strengthening oncology education, medical oncology curriculum, oncology infrastructure and cancer treatment in Nigeria.
The training is being facilitated by O’Connor and Mike Martin, a medical oncologist and associate professor of Medicine at the University of Tennessee in the US.