Dr. Uche Emmanuel Nwokwu is a consultant dermatologist with the National Cancer Control Programme of the Federal Ministry of Health Abuja. He speaks about the partnership that has reduced cancer treatment to 50% while talking to our correspondent at the International Cancer Week 2022. Excerpts;
Q. May we know you officially?
A. I am Dr. Uchechukwu Emmanuel Nwokwu consultant dermatologist, an assistant director with the National Cancer Control programme with the Federal Ministry of Health Abuja.
We are in charge of policy making and implementation in the country for cancer control and prevention. We are also the one who organised this International Cancer week in Nigeria. This cancer week for this year 2022 is intended to address bridging the cancer care gap with the mind of improving diagnosis and multi-disciplinary management of cancers.
We are currently implementing the national cancer control plan 2018 to 2022. The plan has seven priority areas of action which include diagnosis and treatment governance and finance, social mobilization, supply chain management, care and prevention.
So in every year we try to take one of these priority areas of action of the plan to discuss at the international cancer week because the cancer week provides us with the opportunity of having all the stakeholders in the cancer eco system in Nigeria to be able to look at what have we done as a country in the cancer control and prevention; where is the gap and where do we need to be? Then what do we need to do to get where we need to be?
So this year we are looking at cancer diagnosis and the reason is, we cannot provide optimal cancer cake without having proper diagnosis. If you don’t get the diagnosis properly your treatment will be wrong. And we want to lay emphasis on that. And the Honourable Minister yesterday talked about improving what we call cancer access partnership programme where cancer treatment had been provided at the discounted rate of 50%. As well as providing comprehensive free treatment for those who are indigent.
These are complimentary programmes of the federal government of Nigeria. So we are trying to also integrate diagnosis into this programme to ensure that those who don’t have enough money, money will not be a major challenge in accessing diagnosis and treatment.
This year we are introducing some measures in the cancer access partnership programme in order to reduce the cost of diagnosis.
Once diagnosis is gotten right the treatment arm is already also subsidized so patients will be able to have care. That is the major focus for this year.
We are also going to take advantage of cancer week to review two very important strategic plans in the country. One of them is the National Strategic Plan for prevention of cancer of the cervice and the other is Nigeria National Cancer Control Plan 2023 to 2027.
So these plans will serve as bible for cancer management or call it the holy book, because it is going to guide us in implementing over the next five years what we are going to achieve to ensure that cancer care is optimized in the country.
Tomorrow and next tomorrow we will be reviewing those plans and once they are reviewed and adopted by stakeholders, we will present it to the Honourable Minister of Health who will approve it and it becomes Nigeria plans.
So these plans will be used to implement strategic activities that will address the challenges that cancer patients face in this country.
That is what this week is going to achieve as well.
Apart from training workshops, different side meetings of various professions and of course you can see some of our partners here to assist some of the professionals in navigating across what they need to do to provide care for their patients.
Q. How do you people identify cancer patients who are not ready to come and show themselves?
A. Cancer is not a notifiable disease. In public health, what we call notifiable disease is a disease. If someone hears or sees that someone is suffering from the disease, it is expected that they should notify the public health arm of the government.
However, we understand that some stigmas are attached to the disease that some people don’t want to show that they have the disease. Or when they say that this is what the person has, the first response will be God forbid.
Meanwhile the person already has the disease, so the next action they will go to is to go to their Pastor or go to their Imam or go to their Babalawo to cast it out. Some will say that it was sent by a witch.
This is one of the mixes, we are using this platform to advance awareness because the longer you stay with the disease before you go to the hospital, the more it advances, and the more it advances the more difficult it will be to treat.
So we are trying to create awareness to our people. Once you notice any abnormal pain, any abnormal bleeding from any part of your body the first thing is that the person should go to hospital so that these symptoms should be properly screened and confirmed what it is.
If it is not cancer, thank God, if it is cancer, at that early stage it can be treated and cured. Some of them are curable – so many of them are curable once they are detected early enough and you go for the treatment and you will be fine.