ABUJA - Nigeria has the highest cancer mortality rate in Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Low awareness, late detection and the high cost of treatments are major factors contributing to increasing mortality in the west African nation.
But in October, also world cancer awareness month, several non-profits in Nigeria are taking information about the disease to the streets and sponsoring underprivileged patients for treatments.
Zainab Mohammad was a chief administrative officer with Nigeria's Judicial Service Commission when she discovered an abnormal growth in her left breast one year ago.
She immediately went for a biopsy, which confirmed it was malignant. The outcome devastated her, she said.
"I saw the result, the doctor said suspicious malignancy. I know when it says malignancy, it means cancer. I was like my life has ended, I was like dead."
Zainab started treatment to fight the disease and eventually underwent a mastectomy.
Then the medical bills came.
"Managing cancer is very expensive. I had to look for funds from family and friends,” Zainab said. “At the end of the day, I had to sell my house to pay for my medications."
By WHO's estimates, some 41,000 cancer-related deaths took place in Nigeria last year — one of the highest mortality rates in the world.
Public health expert Aminu Aliyu acknowledges the situation is serious.
"Within 2012, we had an increase in the number of incidents of cancer patients from 12- 14 million to about 18 million in 2018,” Aliyu said. “The statistics for 2019 have yet to come out."
WATCH: Nigerians Take to Streets to Fight Cancer
To address the problem, Nigerian authorities launched a National Cancer Control plan last year. Early in the week, the government announced 50% discounts on chemotherapy treatments for patients.
In October, non-profit groups like the Medicaid Foundation led thousands to the streets to create awareness and raise funds for treatment of cancer patients.
Founder Zainab Bagudu says the non-profit has been serving patients for eight years.
"So far we've raised over a million dollars,” Bagudu said. “We've impacted over 200,000 people we've helped them and we operate all over Nigeria. The impact is high in my state in Kebbi where my husband is the governor because we reach all the 21 local government areas where we talk to people. We create awareness."
Cancer is the second leading cause of deaths globally, but the impact is often greater in low- and middle-income countries like Nigeria which lack adequate resources to support cancer policies for their citizens, making fundraising and awareness even more critical.