The outbreak of COVID-19 will serve as a wake-up call for all to support the ‘Big War Against Cancer’ as cancer patients are the worse hit by the virus.
Dr Abia Nzelu, the Executive Secretary, Mass Medical Mission (MMM), made the assertion on Saturday in Lagos.
Nzelu said: “If cancer patients in the developed countries have double jeopardy when hit by the virus, Nigeria’s cancer patients are faced with a quadruple jeopardy due to dearth of infrastructure for cancer care.
“Cancer is the single most important barrier to increasing life expectancy in every country of the world in the 21st century.
“While cancer patients in developed countries have a double jeopardy in that they are worse hit by the COVID-19 crisis, our cancer patients are worse off,” Nzelu said in a statement.
According to her, the dearth of infrastructure for cancer care; restriction on medical tourism due to the lockdown; and finally, the diversion of the few resources available locally toward addressing the COVID-19 crisis are reasons why they are worse hit.
Nzelu stressed the need for establishment of at least a Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC) as a tertiary health institution focussed exclusively on cancer care.
She said while country like India have over 200 functional CCC, Nigeria has yet to establish one.
“Nigerians spent over 200 million U.S dollars annually for treatment of cancer abroad, an amount that is sufficient to set up three Comprehensive Cancer Centres in Nigeria every year
“Sadly, most Nigerians who travelled abroad still end up dying, because of the late presentation,” Nzelu said.
She said that when Nigeria reported its first Coronavirus-related death,which occurred on March 22, the casualty was a cancer patient who returned from UK for chemotheraphy treatment.
“Whilst it is imperative for all to do everything right and beneficial to check the spread of the dreaded COVID-19, it must not remove our attention from much bigger and much deadlier health problems like cancer.
“We must also keep up the relentless fight against other conditions which are risk factors for cancer, including Human Papillomavirus (HPV), HIV/AIDS, hepatitis virus, malaria, hypertension and diabetes,” she added.
Quoting the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Nzelu said there were over 18 million new cancer cases globally and 9.6 million cancer deaths every year.
She said that Cancer kills 26,000 people daily more than the global death toll of COVID-19 in 85 days.
“COVID-19 is known to have a single digit mortality rate of between 0 per cent and nine per cent of those infected with the virus (about 4.5% globally).
“Meanwhile, the global mortality rate of cancer is 53 per cent.
“In Nigeria, over 100,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed annually out of which about 70,000 died,” the expert said.
Nzelu noted that cancer was a bigger problem in Nigeria than other better publicised problems, including militancy, kidnapping, armed robbery and pipelines explosions.
“Hence, there is an urgent need to escalate efforts to establish the first Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Nigeria for the optimal care of confirmed cancers.
“In future, the CCC could always be adapted to fight unexpected health crises, like COVID-19,” she said.