Lack of access to diagnostics centres and cancer management structure have influenced high cancer mortality in Nigeria.
This is because on all fronts, cancer patients in Nigeria are embattled. From access to treatment centres, equipment and to personnel, they have tales of woes to tell.
For example, the National Hospital Abuja, had said that only 25 per cent of cancer patients seeking admission to the hospital were admitted, due to lack of space.
This has no doubt led to the death of many Nigerians. It has also encouraged medical tourism as travelling abroad for cancer treatment becomes a trend.
Even though cancer is treatable, especially when diagnosed at the early stage, many Nigerians with the disease still die due to the dearth of facilities and misdiagnosis.
It was learnt that there are only seven cancer centres with functional machines, both public and private, in the country as against a minimum of 200 cancer centres or 600 units of radiotherapy machines that Nigeria is expected to have to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard.
In a bid to changing the narrative, the federal government, through the National Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), in 2019, commissioned a state-of-the-art cancer centre in Lagos State, and has recently established diagnostic centres in Kano and Abia States.
The NSIA/LUTH Cancer Treatment Centre in Lagos, which was commissioned by President Buhari in 2019, has raised hope for cancer patients in the country, especially in the phase of COVID 19.
Buhari had during the commissioning referred to the centre as a world class facility that would mitigate the burden of cancer in the country, as well as reduce medical tourism.
The centre, which houses three linear accelerators and brachytherapy machines and built on the tune of $11 million, has been dubbed the biggest cancer treatment centre in West Africa. It has the capacity to attend to 100 persons daily.
This no doubt would help ensure access to quality healthcare and address the burden of cancer in the country.
Speaking during the commissioning of the NSIA/Umuahia Diagnostic Centre in Abia State, recently, the chief executive officer, NSIA, Uche Orji, said that the NSIA aims to develop and operationalise diagnostic centres in each geo-political zone of the country. According to him, the initiative was informed by the need to fill the acute deficit of modern and automated medical diagnostic infrastructure, which had led to the prevalence of delayed and inaccurate diagnosis for critical care cases.
He said, “The NSIA-Umuahia Diagnostic center was built in 18 months and at a cost of approximately $5.5 million. Once fully operational, this will be the largest and most modern diagnostic centre in the South-East and South-South region of the country.
“This project was executed as a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) via a Special Purpose Vehicle owned 90 per cent by the NSIA and 10 per cent by the Federal Medical Centre Umuahia (FMCU). After a 15-year period, the period over which we anticipate the NSIA will have recouped its investment, and full ownership of the SPV and its assets will revert to FMCU.”
Orji said Statpath, which is a joint-venture between Synlab, a global leader in pathology and Crestview, a tier-1 radiology company in Nigeria, would operate the centre and facilitate skills and knowledge transfer to the FMCU pathology and radiology teams, adding that with a public-private partnership structure, NSIA would ensure that the center was maintained to the highest standards, and that FMCU benefits both financially as well as through training of its staff.
He estimated that the centre would serve about 70,000 clients and provide direct employment opportunities to about 47 people within its first year of operation.
The Abia State governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, described the investment as a timely intervention, especially as the world was still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Health is wealth which ultimately reminds us that a healthy nation is a wealthy nation. Policy position of successive governments at all tiers must prioritise healthcare. Investments must be made, and laws must support integrating in the underserved mostly from low income homesteads.
“Added to our broadened policy implementation in healthcare, we are pleased that the federal government through the NSIA is complementing our efforts by establishing a centre of healthcare excellence in Umuahia which I trust will be the first of many,” he said.
According to Ikpeazu, the NSIA-Umuahia Diagnostic Centre was a full-service facility that would provide comprehensive radiology and laboratory services to ensure the highest quality of care for all Nigerians.
In his remarks, the Minister of State for Health, Senator Adeleke Mamora, urged the Centre’s management team, “To take up the challenge of ensuring that the confidence reposed in them is earned by guaranteeing that the quality of service at the facility is never allowed to deteriorate
“As a medical doctor, I understand the challenges of operation with sub-par equipment. Government is stepping in to address this difficulty and therefore the team running the centre must justify the investment.”
In her keynote address, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed said, “President Buhari’s administration is placing a focus on greater investment in the healthcare sector and working to ensure increased access to safe, high quality service for every Nigerian.”
She noted that investment in healthcare was critical to a thriving economy, saying that a healthy people are an enabler for productivity.
Ahmed also described the facility in Kano State, which cost $5.5 million, as one of the practical measures taken by the federal government to check the rate Nigerians seek for medical tourism overseas.
She revealed that a special scheme had been floated by her ministry to enable less privileged Nigerians access services at the centre, noting that the Kano Centre would be serving all the states in the north – west geopolitical zone of the country, as well as the neighbouring Niger Republic.
This accelerated action towards improved diagnosis and cancer care would no doubt reduce deaths from cancer and provide healthcare for all.