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Opinions of Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Columnist: Abisayo Fakiyesi

Winning the war against a silent pandemic

On Thursday, February 4, Nigeria will join the rest of the world to commemorate yet another “World Cancer Day”. But, are we aware that cancer is a silent pandemic we seldom talk about?

Cancer is a terminal disease in which abnormal cells grow in a particular part of the body with the potential of spreading and distorting the body system. The regular treatment for cancer in Nigeria comprises Surgery, Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy.

In Nigeria today, we have less than 150 oncologists but there are tens of thousands of cancer patients scattered all over the country. We understand the oncologists in the country are overwhelmed by the oncologist-to-patient ratio but how many truthfully give good consultation to their patients? We find oncologists in government hospitals giving “hell treatments” to already suffering cancer patients.

I remember during my days of receiving chemotherapy, a lot of cancer patients were not happy with the quality of service offered by these oncologists. There were even times oncologists gave wrong treatment to patients. These oncologists would even boldly say it without apology.

Cancer is already a challenging disease which is economically, mentally and physically draining. Patients and survivors need better access to good healthcare.

My friend, Jumoke of the blessed memory, was misdiagnosed and also given wrong treatment which resulted in her starting Chemotherapy yet again on her already traumatised body. Unfortunately, she had complications at night, she called her doctor who prescribed a medication for her. The complication got worse even as she struggled to get to a private hospital. When she eventually got to the private hospital, they requested a deposit of N250,000 which she didn’t have. She left and on her way to the government hospital, she died. Please, what level of professional service was offered by the oncologist? Such an oncologist will be counting years of experience in killing patients as years of experience in practising as an oncologist.

Most oncologists in Nigeria, by my standard, do not add value and also increase the already existing conditions of cancer patients through bad patient management. It is pertinent to create an organisational body to check the services offered by these oncologists to patients and if such oncologists are found wanting, they should be thoroughly dealt with. Only then, I believe, will the few oncologists we have in the country sit up.

Although we cannot neglect the poor funding of the cancer hospitals and clinics in the country by the government, however, “killing patients” shouldn’t be the order of the day.

The Nigerian government should do more by establishing bodies that check the services offered by oncologists, provide PET SCAN machines that help the oncologists know the exact state of the disease, build more cancer hospitals with experienced staff and increase the remuneration of oncologists. If all of the above suggestions are not put in place, I can bet that this silent pandemic will soon have negative effects on the country’s economy, eating into the different sectors.

I hope an oncologist reads this piece and improves in rendering quality service to patients. I hope a lawmaker reads this piece and sponsors a bill on improving healthcare for cancer patients. I hope everyone takes responsibility in supporting cancer patients.

Hopefully by next year 2022, the ‘World Cancer Day’ will be appreciated by me. Right now, it’s not worth celebrating because we have more cancer patients dying than surviving.

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