Nigeria
A Growing Menace: The Unsettling Trajectory of Cancer in Nigeria

A Growing Menace: The Unsettling Trajectory of Cancer in Nigeria

Author: Ogwu Ojochegbe Emmanuel

Image Source: Africa WHO

Our ancestors died of many things: the relentless bite of malaria, the suffocating grasp of tuberculosis, the cruel hand of fate in accidents, the devastating toll of HIV/AIDS, the brutal consequences of war and slavery. However, with advancements in technology, vaccines, treatments, and peace, life expectancy increased and we lived longer. Yet, amidst this progress, we revealed a monster that has always lurked within – Cancer. 

Cancer, often poorly understood, is not always an invader from afar. It is, in the words of Dr. Greg Simon, “life in abundance.” Our very cells, the building blocks of our being, can turn against us, multiplying uncontrollably, their rampant growth stealing not just hope, but life itself. In 2020, a scary statistic echoed across Nigeria: over 124,000 new cases of this “disease” were recorded, a grim snapshot captured by just four cancer registries in a nation of over 200 million people. While the sheer number is alarming, the truly terrifying aspect lies in the mortality rate – a staggering 63%.

The world has waged war against cancer with remarkable strides. New treatments, early detection methods, and a growing arsenal of knowledge have empowered humanity to fight back. Yet, Nigeria lags behind, its battle against this menace hampered by a multitude of factors. Low and fragmented funding cripples the healthcare system, leaving it ill-equipped to face the growing onslaught. Policies, though well-intentioned, often falter in implementation, their potential rendered impotent by poor governance. The spectre of administrative failure looms large, a reminder that the will to fight isn’t always matched by concrete action.

At the heart of this struggle lies the financial burden of cancer. Treatment costs soar beyond the reach of many, leaving many to wrestle with the painful choice between life and financial ruin. The cruel irony is blunt: it is bad to have cancer, but infinitely worse to have cancer and be poor. Access to healthcare becomes a privilege, not a right, leaving countless Nigerians vulnerable and abandoned in the face of this silent killer.

Comprehensive cancer care centers are few and far between, their inadequacy a reflection of a larger systemic underinvestment. Equipment lies outdated and malfunctioning, a clear indication of a healthcare system gasping for breath. Medications, essential weapons in this war, are often scarce or exorbitantly priced, leaving patients feeling like casualties even before the battle truly begins.

The human workforce is perhaps the most devastating. Nigeria has less than 90 clinical oncologists, a woefully inadequate number to serve a population of such size. This shortage is further worsened by “The Japa Syndrome”, a brain drain that sees skilled healthcare professionals fleeing to greener pastures, leaving behind a nation grappling with a medical crisis in the hands of a depleted workforce.

In the face of this bleak landscape, glimmers of hope emerge. Initiatives like Project Pink Blue offer sustainable models of cancer awareness, prevention and education, empowering Nigerian communities to fight back. More of such initiatives, backed by sustained funding, robust policy implementation, and unwavering political will, can become the turning point in Nigeria’s fight against cancer.

The battle against cancer in Nigeria is not simply a medical one; it is a social, economic, and political struggle demanding a multi-pronged approach. By addressing the systemic issues that impede progress, investing in robust healthcare infrastructure, and fostering a culture of awareness and prevention, Nigeria can rise to meet this challenge. It is a fight for life, for hope, for a future where the shadow of cancer no longer looms large, but fades into the light of a healthier, more equitable tomorrow.

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