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Health Care Activists Press for Cancer Awareness in Nigeria

Dr. Sagir Ahmed

The World Health Organization says 100,000 to 150,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed every year in Nigeria, and the figure is expected to hit 500,000 in the next decade. Health workers say the government and the people must work together to reduce new cases.

A leading Nigerian blood specialist is alarmed at the growing numbers of cases of cancer – the name given to a class of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth of cells, which then form tumors. If they aren’t treated, they’re usually fatal.

Dr. Sagir Ahmed of Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in Kano was one of the organizers and speakers at a conference on the challenges of diagnosing cancer in Nigeria:

“What is [really scary] is the WHO says that 70% of the new cancers that will be seen in the future are going to be affecting individuals in the developing nations -- the so-called poorer segments of the world. I am sure Nigeria is one of [them], and we must get ready to face those new cases being forecast by the World Health Organization.”

Dr. Ahmed says the most common cancers among those expected to increase are of the breast, cervix, colon, lungs and prostate.

He says because of the complex nature of the disease, early detection through screening is the best way to prevent it.

That is already being done, says Dr. Bawa Ahmed Abimiku, the president of the Nigerian Cancer Society and the chief medical officer at Federal Medical Center in Keffi, Nassarawa state.

“Having known the cost, pattern, and progression of different cancers, “ says Dr. Abimiku, “we are now calling on people to be aware; they should come for screening. Every cancer has its own screening test. In fact, we...look for early signs of cancer [and provide treatment].”

Dr. Ahmed says the government and the public both have roles to play in treating the disease. He recently spoke at a conference on the challenges of diagnosing cancer in Nigeria -- a meeting he helped organize.

“We must be extra vigilant,” says the doctor. “The government must play its role as to make the environment safe and remove all environmental factors that may [contribute to] cancer.”

Good sources of drinking water, he says, will stop people from going to streams and ponds, where they get infected with some of these organisms. The government, he says, “must also intensify vaccination against all infectious agents, all viruses that are known to be strongly associated with the development of cancer.”

The government should increase its efforts to prevent illnesses with links to cancer, he says, such as hepatitis, a disease of the liver, and the human papillomavirus (pap-ah-LO-mah-VYE-rus), which is transmitted during intercourse and is linked to cervical cancer.

Dr. Ahmed says people can also adjust their lifestyles:

People should abstain, the doctor says “from smoking, indiscriminate sexual inter-course and refrain from factors known to be associated with cancer, such as drug abuse.”

The Nigeria Cancer Society is working with NGOs to create public awareness campaigns that include radio and television advertisements, handbills, pamphlets and other educational materials that are distributed in schools, hospitals and other public places.