Cancer patients risk long-term consequences of health resource diversion to COVID-19 –Researcher

Yusuff Moshood

A Nigerian professor of pharmacology and fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Isa Hussaini, says Nigerian cancer patients face long-term consequences of the diversion of resources from cancer and other diseases to the management of COVID-19.

According to the World Health Organisation, Nigeria recorded 70,327 cancer deaths in 2018 alone from an estimated 115,950 cancer cases.

However, since the outbreak of COVID-19, it has been difficult for cancer patients in Nigeria to access care at treatment centres across the country as resources and attention have been diverted to fighting the viral pandemic.

Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, Hussaini, a professor of pharmacology and current chief of staff to the Borno State Governor, said the focus on COVID-19 would have a long-term negative effect on cancer patients.

He noted that concentrating on the viral pandemic at the expense of cancer treatment was also capable of reversing previous gains of cancer control.

Hussaini, who specialises in cancer research, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has re-directed both human and capital resources from cancer and other diseases to the management of the coronavirus disease.

“This shift has put the management and therapy of cancer into the background.

“The reduction in resources allocated to control and fight cancer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term consequences on lives of Nigerians,” he said.

Hussaini lauded the establishment of some cancer registries, while he also called for the establishment of a centralised data registry to properly coordinate cancer control in the country.

“Indeed, the establishment of cancer registry has helped in collecting data.

“There should be a more unified and robust cancer registry. All teaching hospitals, medical centres and State Specialists hospital should collect cancer data and transmit to a central data centre.

“A centralised data registry will better improve the control of cancer,” he said.

On why the incidence of cancer seems to be on the increase in the country, the pharmacology professor said: “Nigerians are now living longer and most cancer incidences increase with age.

“In most cases, cancers are diagnosed very late in Nigeria, when the cancer cells must have already metastasised.

“These terminal cancer cases do not respond to treatment and thus, the need for palliative care to improve the quality of life of the cancer patient.”

He advocated for early detection of the disease, noting that early diagnosis and surgical and radiological interventions are still the best approaches available to tame it.

Hussaini also urged state governments to embrace the national cancer control policy, stressing that cancer control efforts at the state levels will be significantly enhanced when it is in line with the national policy.

“The states, in their own interest, must key into the national policy for better coordination.

“The Federal Government should hold a dialogue with the states and provide common platforms for cancer policy as well as cancer registry,” he counselled.

The pharmacology professor, while calling for more research into herbal remedies for cancer, also commended the Federal Government for its recent expansion of the Palliative Care Policy aimed at improving the quality of life of cancer patients.

“The expansion of the Palliative Care Policy for cancer patients is well overdue,” Hussaini said.

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