Scarcity of Diagnostic Services Hinders Cancer Care in the Southeast
Due to the difficulty many Nigerians, particularly those in the south-east region, have accessing diagnostic services, the battle against cancer, particularly in the areas of prevention and treatment, may still be far from won.
Public hospitals in the southeast geopolitical zone now cannot boast of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine for the detection of the disease, despite the fact that cancer accounts for 78,000 deaths each year in Nigeria.
According to sources, the five states in the southeast may be responsible for 13% (10,000) of all cancer-related deaths each year. Oncologists recently confirmed that this rate is rising due to a number of factors, including lifestyle choices, the consumption of processed foods, diets, smoking, alcohol intakes, and the consumption of numerous starchy foods.
The University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, is being renovated and equipped recently as the primary cancer treatment facility for the area, according to research by The Guardian newspaper.
However, despite having a population of about 22 million people and having world-class medical facilities like Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital (NAUTH), Awka, Anambra State, the region has continued to refer cancer cases that need in-depth medical examination to private facilities in Enugu or public tertiary facilities in Lagos, Ibadan, as well as the northern parts of the country.
While the area struggles with the detrimental effects of the public tertiary hospital’s lack of MRI equipment, it was also discovered that before 2007, no tertiary hospital in the area had a mammography machine.
A non-invasive imaging technique known as MRI creates three-dimensional, intricate anatomical images. For disease detection, diagnosis, and therapy monitoring, it is frequently employed. It is used to look into or find the cause of soft tissue problems, including brain disorders or tumors.
While the cost of purchasing new MRI equipment and ongoing maintenance is estimated to be in the billions of naira range, receiving the service at a private facility in the southeast region is prohibitively expensive, making it out of the reach of the average person.
A Professor of Radiology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Prof. Ifeoma Okoye, while lamenting the development, stated, “Is it not shameful that UNTH, one of the three first-generation premier teaching hospitals in Nigeria, is today still without an MRI? I have wept in the office of our representative senators from the southeast, in the National Assembly, for them to come over to Macedonia and help us… yet, no result.
“We have continued to refer patients to where they can get the service, especially when you need to be sure of the disease. So, it is not as if we don’t have the right manpower, but the right facilities that will aid diagnosis are not available”, she stated.
Unfortunately, the UNTH, Enugu, is the only center of excellence approved by the federal government to handle cancer cases in the southeast region. All other federal government hospitals in the southeast make referrals of cancer cases to the oncology unit of the UNTH.
Efforts to obtain the number of patients referred from states in the zone to the UNTH daily or weekly requiring diagnosis failed; but a hospital source stated that “We have patients on a daily basis who come here for examination from various states in the southeast”.
Cancer mortality rates in the southeast region of Nigeria are expected to remain high due to the lack of affordable diagnosis and treatment facilities.
Public Health Specialist Dr Greg Ogbuisi believes that poverty is the main factor behind the inability of residents to access medical care. He suggests that providing basic diagnosis and treatment facilities for cancer patients would improve interest in public hospitals.
However, the Director of the Oncology Centre at UNTH, Enugu, Dr Nwamaka Lasebikan, agrees that MRI machines would be better than CT scan machines currently in use at the hospital. The refurbished Oncology Centre offers a full complement of treatment, including surgery, trained oncologists, a state-of-the-art radiotherapy centre, and specialists trained in cancer patient delivery.
The former President of West African College of Surgeons, Emeritus Prof Okechukwu Mbonu, stated that residents of the southeast suffering from cancer have been patronizing the federal facility at Ibadan.
Chief Medical Director of Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, Azubuike Onyebuchi, stated that adequate healthcare facilities would help tackle the rate at which experts leave the country for greener pastures.
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