Nigeria To Spend N200m On Indigent Cancer Patients

The 2024 Appropriations Act (budget), which includes the Cancer Health Fund (CHF), has N200 million set aside for the treatment of cancer patients who are impoverished, according to Dr. Tunji Alausa, Minister of State for Health.

At a press conference held in Abuja to mark World Cancer Day (WCD) in 2024, he revealed this. The goal of the global commemoration in 2022–2024 was to “Close the Cancer Gap,” with the sub-theme for 2024 being “Together, We Challenge Those in Power.”

This focuses on the desire from throughout the world for leaders to make cancer prevention and care a priority, to invest in it, and to take additional action to create a world free of cancer.

Therefore, the minister stated that the Federal Government has contributed N1.3 billion to the CHF in the last four years to enhance the treatment of indigent patients. He, however, added that though the fund would not be enough to do what needed to be done to take care of Nigerians; the ministry was mobilising funds through a sector-wide approach and involving private sector

Alausa said “That is not what we need to take care of the large burden of the disease that we face. We are working on mobilising a substantial amount of money from two various pathways.

“The Health Sector Renewal Initiative, the big focus of that is sector wide approach. This will enable us to mobilise funds and coordinate current fragmentation we have in our healthcare system.

“We have the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF), which is one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) but that is not enough to meet the healthcare needs of our vulnerable group and the people that need it the most.”

He added that the ministry would collaborate with development partners to direct funds to where it was needed for better coordination to avoid duplication. He said “as we mobilise some of the funds from our development partners as well as the funds from the BHCPF, we will direct more to Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) and the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA).

“The move is to enable us to cover all patients as we move into the year, and we are fortunate to have a supplementary budget; we will advocate for more funding to be directed to the healthcare sector.”

He also said that the recently created National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment (NICRAT) had been mandated by law to provide leadership in the area of cancer research and treatment.

For better coordination, he said, the ministry recently moved the CHF being coordinated and housed in the ministry to NICRAT to provide prompt and unhindered access to indigent Nigerians who needed it for efficiency, particularly timeliness and sustainability.

He said the ministry would, however, continue to provide its oversight and policy direction for the fund. Speaking about some of the steps taken to address cancer challenges in the country, he mentioned primary prevention through vaccination, early detection, prompt treatment and research.

According to him, the ministry, through the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), is leading the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination for primary prevention of cancer of the cervix.

“It is also carrying out Hepatitis immunisation for the prevention of liver cancers. Vaccination for viral hepatitis has been on the national programme on immunisation, HPV Vaccination was commenced in 2023.

“I hereby enjoin parents, opinion leaders and indeed all stakeholders to take advantage of the immunisation programmes. The vaccine is free, very safe and highly efficacious in preventing these cancers.”

The minister also said that the NHIA Act 2022 had made health insurance mandatory for all Nigerians and, therefore had been mandated through a guideline to enrol all Nigerians including cancer patients into health insurance. “The NHIA will ultimately manage funding for cancer care in the future, to avoid duplication of roles in terms of purchase of services for all patients.

“Recently, the operational guideline of the NHIA Act was launched to pave the way for full operationalisation of the Act, which also provides for funding for vulnerable Nigerians including cancer patients.”

He also said that to improve access to cancer care services, the government was establishing six new cancer centres of excellence in the following hospitals across the six geopolitical zones with brachytherapy machines and other equipment.

They are University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu (South-East), Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, Federal Teaching Hospital, Katsina (North-West), University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Benin (South-South) and Jos University teaching Hospital, Jos (North Central).

Others are Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Lagos (South West), while the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, Maiduguri (North-East) was being upgraded. Alausa added that the ministry was currently implementing the National Policy on Hospice and Palliative Care and the National Policy on Chemotherapy Safety which were launched in 2021.

“This year is the midterm of their implementation; the ministry will take steps to review the level of implementation of the two policy documents with the view to ensuring optimal uptake by the healthcare providers across the country.”

Speaking about the 2024 World Cancer Day Theme which says “Together, we can challenge those in power”, he said that they have challenged themselves and have resolved to close cancer care gap in Nigeria.

One of the advocates for early detection and treatment present at the conference, advocated strongly for measures to ensure early detection such as affordable testing were put in place.

Ms Salomey Eferemo, Chief Executive Officer, Partnership for Eradication of Cancer in Africa (PECA), said that the rollout of HPV vaccine was the best thing that happened to the cancer space and Nigerian women.

According to her, early detection is the secret and the cheapest means recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for Low-Middle-Income Countries such as Nigeria is the “Look and Treat Protocol.

“They should routinise it in Nigeria. If a woman walks into a health centre to test for HPV, they should check her for it, if she has been checked she should be given a certificate like COVID, stamped and dated.

“With this, we can have data to work with, have a registry to know who has and who does not and who needs to be escalated for treatment and the data collection too will be fine.”

She, however, said that her organisation was seeking approval to introduce a device called Oncosic which was capable of detecting between seven to 11 cancers by one specimen of the blood.

She said that it would be detected from within the DNA and if there was potential to have any sort of cancer or one was identified, treatment could begin early.

“Some cancers take 20 years to manifest, so why would one wait that long when you can just find out how many cancers you do not have.

“Oncosic has been validated in Europe and they are bringing it here because it is cheap. Most cancer tests are very expensive but this one may be under 20 dollars.

“They put it under an analyser in the lab and use an Artificial Intelligence algorithm to detect it,” she added.

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