Tackling the rise in Nigeria’s childhood cancer cases

Tackling the rise in Nigeria’s childhood cancer cases

First Published: Business Day Newspaper

Nigeria is struggling to confront challenges associated with the rising prevalence of childhood cancer cases in the country.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that 30,000 children are diagnosed with the disease yearly, with 80 percent of them living in low and middle income countries such as Nigeria.

Paediatric cancer comes in different forms to cause not only untold physiological hardships, but also, costing several millions of naira in treatment; depending on how long it takes to get cured, if at all it does, experts say.

A BusinessDay investigation finds that Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), National Hospital Abuja, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto (UDUTH) diagnose at least 6-10 new cases of childhood cancer very month.

This accounts for about 120 new cases each in a year and the 0–4 year age group had the greatest contribution with most of the children dying during the course of treatment.

September is childhood cancer month and experts say it is imperative that the Federal Government focus on addressing the high prevalence rate in the country.

Findings have shown that children who live with cancer in Nigeria have been on the rise and their cases mostly end sadly. This underscores the urgent need for strategies to address the problem of childhood cancer in Nigeria.

Adedayo Joseph Clinical Radiation Oncologist and founder of the Dorcas Cancer Foundation, has called for more awareness in tackling the sudden increase.

Joseph narrated the ordeal of a 3-year old that had been through chemotherapy and surgery and was at his office to get radiation treatment.

“I saw the extreme anxiety in the face of the child. For two to three years of his life, all he had known was hospitals, needles, nausea-inducing chemotherapy, painful surgeries, uncomfortable scans, excruciating biopsies, blood transfusions, and no end in sight,” he said.

According to Joseph, the child was nervous and afraid and it took just one small lollipop for him to convince the child to take off his shirt for examination.

“I told my team members that if a three-year-old can go through all that and still believe; then we all have to believe like him,” he said.

“They do not get to walk away and pretend that cancer does not exist and neither do we. The pain we are feeling now will ultimately serve some kind of good. I do not know when, or how, or what… but I am choosing to believe.

“We will be here a little while longer, fighting against the tide if that is what we have to do. Helping only one child at a time if that is all we are able to do. We will be here,” she added.

The Dorcas Cancer Foundation is a non-profit organisation focused on improving childhood cancer survival in Nigeria through awareness, research, and direct treatment funding.

The foundation has backed cancer research; published and distributed free of charge, a first of its kind childhood cancer handbook in West Africa, funded diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for several children; partnered with community leaders and influencers to raise awareness; and trained hundreds of health care professionals on early detection and referral paths.

The exact cause of cancer is still unknown. However, there may be some inherited factors associated with the development of the disease in children.

Most importantly, there is a vast array of help and support available to those diagnosed and their families.

Reports have shown that children, who consume a lot of canned food and drinks containing chemicals, have higher exposure to cancer ailment. Also, parental lifestyle, work environment, air pollution, and children, with still-developing bodies are also vulnerable to cancer risk.

In addition to that, exposure to airborne carcinogens such as inhaled asbestos, certain dioxins, and tobacco smoke also trigger cancer in children.

According to matron at the paediatrician cancer ward at the LUTH who pleaded anonymity said caring for children with cancers pose a huge challenge on families and the healthcare system. Childhood cancer is fast becoming a significant paediatric problem in Nigeria.

“A child coping with cancer needs physical, mental and emotional support. Simply putting them on treatment is not enough. Cancer treatment is often very long-drawn and painful with children suffering from a number of side-effects,” she said.

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