Update: Oncology in Nigeria

On my way home after a long day of OCY lectures (Orientation to the Clinical Year), I stopped in front of the Duke Medical Library to make a phone call. This pause provided a rare opportunity for me to admire the very impressive outlines of Duke’s new Cancer Center. The building, scheduled for completion in 2012, is a clear indication of Duke’s commitment to becoming a leader in cancer treatment and research. As I marveled at the grandeur of the edifice, I thought about Nigeria and wondered if we were doing anything to keep up with worldwide advances in oncology. It turns out that we are not doing very much – Nigeria is once again, lagging behind.

A recent report (here) highlights that Nigeria does not have the facilities to cater to the growing numbers of Cancer patients in the country. Mrs. Moji Animashaun, administrative Director at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) remarks, “Cancer treatment accessibility in Nigeria is virtually non-existent […] Where there are [fewer] than five functioning cancer centers to cater to the needs of a population of 150 million people, it is virtually impossible to make an impression.” This lack of facilities is not the only problem. The article goes on to highlight a dearth in the availability of oncology specialists ranging from MDs to medical physicists to radiologists and even to oncology nurses.  The situation is really discouraging.

As I read through the article, my first instinct was to defend this insufficiency. In the face of “bigger” problems like nutrition, sanitation and infectious disease, I couldn’t expect Nigerian health officials to make oncology a priority. We just don’t have the resources to cover all of this. Further consideration would ultimately invalidate these excuses. Annual cancer incidence in Nigeria is recorded at 7,000, a gross underestimation given the proportion of Nigerians who never make it to health care centers. Additionally, cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, with only cardiovascular disease and infection claiming more lives. One does not have to be gifted in divination to note that as we continue to make progress with prevention and control of infection – improving life expectancy – cancer will become an increasingly prominent part of life in Nigeria. Steps must be taken to ensure that we don’t recreate current the situation in which Nigeria continues to struggle with health issues (e.g. polio) that are almost trivial in many parts of the world.

Participants at the 2011 SOCRON International Conference on Modern Cancer Management

The Society of Oncology and Cancer Research of Nigeria (SOCRON) is providing some leadership in this matter. Their 2011 International Conference on Modern Cancer Management  brought international leaders in cancer management and epidemiology to Nigeria to teach and share insight about current trends in the occurrence and treatment of cancer. Another forum for education is the West African Health Conference and Exhibition to be held in Lagos between September 7 and 10, 2011. The conference promises to highlight advances in oncology, in addition to many other attractions.

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