‘Every state needs cancer centres’
by TIAMIYU ADIO
November 18, 2016 | 2:30 am| | | Start Conversation
REMI AJEKIGBE, Head, Radiotherapy and Oncology Department, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), in this interview with TIAMIYU ADIO, highlights reasons patients troop abroad for solutions due to the challenges facing the health sector in Nigeria and expectations from the government.
Why do Nigerians travel abroad for cancer treatment?
We are not less than 170 million in Nigeria and as at now, we have only two functional cancer centres in Nigeria; Lagos state university teaching hospital (LUTH) and one other hospital. For 170 million people, if we have about seven working maximally with linear accelerator that is not enough at all because cancer has become an epidemic in Nigeria now. In fact every state should have a cancer centre because there is none today that is free of cancer. Even the centres that are functioning have just one machine and it can break down at any time. Also it can take three to six months to repair a faulty machine because the parts are very expensive and also not available in the country. Meanwhile, the cancer patient in the hospital will be dying or dead before the machine is repaired. We have been appealing to the government to provide two cancer machines, so that if one breaks down the other can take over, while the one that is broken down will be repaired. We had up to 9 of these linear accelerator machines in a hospital where I worked in abroad and that is how it should be. Also we need many more cancer centres and that brings us to the point that we need to train more cancer specialists (oncologists), radiotherapists, medical institutes, therapist radiographers, biomedical engineers. As at now, Nigeria has only 50 radiotherapists and Oncologists for 170 million Nigerians. Government should concentrate on training of manpower in this field; that is the way out. If we have the means to treat our people nobody will travel abroad for treatment. We should also educate the masses on early detection of cancer; early detection needs a cure. Late cancer presentation is disastrous.
How expensive is cancer treatment? Is it cost effective travelling for treatment?
No matter how expensive the treatment is in Nigeria today, it is still cheaper than being treated abroad. The drugs for cancer are very expensive. For instance, if someone has cancer of the breast, which is the commonest cancer in the country, there are some tests you do; one of the tests is called immunochemistry. In immunochemistry it is the cancer level that would determine the particular drug a patient would use. The cost of the chemotherapy may be up to 20 million naira, about 800,000 thousand naira every month for one year. There is a patient we calculated Aceptin (a drug) for recently, she needed 18.5 million naira to buy the drug, where would she get it from? How many Nigerians can afford that? Those who can even afford will not stay here in Nigeria for their treatment. The cost of chemotherapy is very expensive. Radiotherapy that we cure with one hundred thousand naira here is more likely to be 100 dollars abroad. Here in Nigeria is cheaper than going abroad, so it is the rich going abroad for the treatment, just that we are yet to have more equipment, manpower and enough facilities. We need to train more manpower in all parts of the country.
What are the statistics of cases treated this year so far?
The number of patients that have been treated are many and those that are still receiving treatment are uncountable because more people are still having cancer that is why we called it an epidemic. Another way out is Private Public Participation (PPP). I don’t know how the government considers it but there are people who want to work with us on this. Also, government should urge the general public to invest in the health sector and assure them on profit sharing.
Do medical practitioners abroad partner with those in Nigeria for the treatment of cancer?
Most health experts abroad are now coming here. They come here to do their business because they know we haven’t gotten enough machines and because the treatment here will be cheaper than going abroad for treatment.
Do they train Nigerians on the best global practices?
Our doctors here are also well trained. It is just that we do not have enough equipment or facilities but most of our doctors are trained here and also go abroad for more training. We are appealing to the government to embrace Private Public Partnership, which will contribute more to the health sector. Those that have money should try and invest in the health sector and there would be a memorandum of understanding between the private individual and the medical institute on profit sharing formula.
What are the causes of cancer?
We don’t know the real cause of cancer; what we have is a theological factor, factors that increase the chances of having cancer. There is what we call FFF, which stands for Foods Fluid and Friend. The first F (Foods) means we eat anything that is genetically modified- that is food that are planted with chemicals and the seasoning we use in cooking our meats.
The second F for fluid means anything liquid we drink. In these drinks, colour, sweeteners have been added, which we may refer to as chemicals, the ones we don’t add anything we put them in plastics, cans, not knowing that they are poisonous.
Lastly Friends, which is a peer group influence. These peers teach you to smoke, drink and all sorts of things. From here also, you can have cancer.
We have genetic factors also, that is your father’s sperm and mother’s eggs that formed you; what the man and woman donated contains genetic materials, which have coded messages. As one grows, these messages unfold, if what has unfolded so far is very pleasing or pleasant to you congratulations, but what may unfold tomorrow may contain cancer.
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