Over the last few years, I have been exploring ways to improve cancer treatment in Nigeria, a country of 191 million people which currently has fewer than nine functional radiotherapy machines, meaning one machine per 20 million Nigerians! The scarcity of radiation therapy in Nigeria has led to higher costs of treatment, in a country where the minimum monthly wage is less than US$100, breast cancer patients have to pay more than US$500 for radical teletherapy treatment. Essentially, if a poor woman in Nigeria is diagnosed with advanced breast cancer (and that is usually the case), your guess is as good as mine regarding her chances of being cured effectively.
Several efforts have been made to improve access to radiation therapy in Nigeria with the most notable attempt being the launch of new machines at Lagos University Teaching Hospital in 2019. However, this is only a drop in the ocean.
'When I saw the call for applications to UICC’s Young Leaders Programme in 2017, I did not hesitate to apply. Given my background as a General Practice Oncologist and the fact that I was already working on doctoral research seeking to improve cancer control in Abia State, I was convinced that this would be a great opportunity to further explore ways to make cancer treatment more affordable and accessible in my region.'
The first thing that wowed me was the large network of Young Leaders. I was excited to meet other young people working on different aspects of cancer control from all over the world. For instance, it was helpful to know that Dr Supriya Jayant Sastri, an Indian Radiation Oncologist and fellow Young Leader, was working on a project to improve access to radiotherapy in Nepal. She connected me to some organisations in India and as a result, I am now working with Panacea Medicals Limited on acquiring a Bhabatron – II (Cobalt 60 machine) for our cancer centre.
The highlight of my activities as a UICC Young Leader was the regional activity, for which I chose to visit Cachar Cancer Hospital in Silchar, India. This non-profit cancer centre provides affordable comprehensive cancer care to the poor in Northeast India. In order to successfully plan and execute the Marjorie Bash Cancer Centre project, it was necessary to find a mentor. Cachar Cancer Hospital proved to be a good example thanks to the work done by Dr Ravi Kannan and his team in providing high-quality care. Through this visit, we reached an agreement with them to mentor us in our Nigerian project.
Presently, Marjorie Bash Cancer Centre has moved from a ‘dream’ to a project in progress. We have started providing cryotherapy services for cervical pathology, in collaboration with a local hospital. We have acquired land near Aba, a location that is easily accessible from different cities in southern Nigeria, including an airport. We are in the process of designing the building in order to receive approval for construction and hope that we will be able to start providing affordable cancer treatment in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria within the next 18 months.
Finally, spending the last twelve months as a UICC Young Leader has been an amazing experience and one of the best things that has happened to my career. Our cancer centre project would not have been able to reach this stage if it wasn't for the opportunity to network through UICC. Apply to be a UICC Young Leader and maybe, just maybe, you will get the opportunity to do something significant for cancer control in your part of the world. If you are interested in knowing more about the Marjorie Bash Foundation, the Cancer Centre, or even contributing in any way to the project, I am only an email/text message away!
UICC's Young Leaders Programme nurtures aspiring young cancer control professionals to become successful leaders in cancer control and the wider global health community.
The Young Leaders Programme is kindly supported by Roche
The call for applications for the next cohort is currently open until 16 June 2019 (Midnight CEST).
Find out more and apply here.