A professor of Radiation Medicine at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Prof. Ifeoma Okoye, says the attention being accorded COVID-19 pandemic is robbing cancer patients of access to quality treatment.
Okoye says some oncology facilities, ventilators and other surgical interventions meant for cancer patients have been converted for COVID-19 treatment.
This is just as the Research Associate at International Research Centre of Excellence, Institute of Human Virology Nigeria, Dr. Augusta Imomon, said that out-of-pocket spending by any new breast cancer patient can be as much as N18m annually.
According to the World Health Organisation, about one in every six deaths globally is due to cancer; and, approximately 70 percent of deaths from cancer occur in low and middle-income countries.
The WHO also said that late-stage presentation of patients, inaccessible diagnosis and treatment are becoming regular features in various treatment centres.
In a press statement made available to PUNCH HealthWise, Okoye urged the Federal Government to ensure stability in the management of cancer, especially those in need of surgical interventions.
“The impact of COVID-19 on cancer care is pretty predictable. The scarce resources to drive our health system have been further denuded by the toll of the pandemic control measures.
“This is huge because the infrastructure needed to manage COVID patients such as functional isolation centres, which were mostly nonexistent, had to be put together, culminating in huge initial take off costs.
“Ventilators, which constitute the mainstay of management of late stage cases requiring urgent care, were also inaccessible coupled with the dearth of qualified staff who are familiar with their use. All these challenges, inclusive of the capital intensive expenditure it attracts contributed to deny cancer control what it needed to ensure stability of the management of Cancer Patients,” she bemoaned.
The Founder of Breast Without Spot further expressed worry that the situation is getting worse, adding that in previous years, the Federal Government had shown some level of commitments in making more cancer screening and treatment facilities available for patients.
“However, the unprecedented pandemic has resulted in, perhaps, diversion of funds (not substantiated by any evidence though) and other available resources to COVID-19 screening and treatment,” she said.
Okoye noted that in the first wave of COVID-19, some government-owned health facilities such as Asokoro District Hospital, Abuja, were dedicated solely to isolation and treatment of patients who tested positive for the virus.
Additionally, she noted that some hospital Oncology practices had to take a chance in triaging their cancer patients, to reduce the risk of being exposed to the virus, while they continued the regular routine visits required for follow up on chemotherapy or radiotherapy management.
“Those patients who were in need of surgical interventions were shelved for a while as hospitals battled to familiarize themselves, with creating a balance between exposing healthcare workers, to unidentifiable cancer patient with the double jeopardy of having COVID-19.
“Thus hospital theatres were shut down, except for emergencies, even with a lot of apprehension, as the test kits in use in those earlier months were not fast PCR testing services. Thus, even emergencies, had to cool their heels to await the verification of their status,” she said.
The oncologist explained that though it may not be possible to completely avoid cancer, she strongly recommended for a shift of focus from ‘sick-care’, to ‘preventive care.’
Meanwhile, a research associate at International Research Centre of Excellence, Institute of Human Virology Nigeria, Dr. Augusta Imomon raised the alarm that out-of-pocket spending incurred by a new patient with breast cancer gulps an initial cost of almost N18 million annually.
While describing cancer as a leading cause of morbidity and mortality globally, she stressed that the disease has become a disease of public health concern.
She also canvassed that government and policy makers should resolve the quagmire of early detection without supporting infrastructure for care and affording management
According to Imomon, it has been noted that cancer patients find it difficult to access specialist care after detection because of the limited number of treatment centres in the country and chronic ‘out-of-pocket’ payment.
Speaking on her personal experience from her breast cancer research studies, she affirmed that COVID 19 has had a negative impact on their research.
“The skeletal activities at the intervention sites resulted in poor recruitment rates; in addition, the women who were recruited were unable to get early appointments due to the immense level of backlog at the referral site (teaching hospital).
“Many of the study participants also revealed that they wanted to avoid the hospitals and health centres this period, so they chose to manage their conditions at home since, to them, their condition did not feel like emergency,” she said.
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