In a bid to close the care gap in cancer treatment in the country, the Federal government has commissioned five Brachytherapy Machines for National Hospital Abuja, UNTH Enugu, UBTH Benin, UCH Ibadan and ABUTH Zaria while in UDUTH Sokoto will be commissioned at a later date.
Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation therapy that is often used to treat cancers of the head and neck, breast, cervix and prostate.
The contract for the procurement and supply of the machines was awarded to STEPCHO Nigeria Ltd.
Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire who virtually commissioned the Brachytherapy Machines, said that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved a special intervention fund for the upgrade and establishment of Radiotherapy services in ABUTH Zaria, UNTH Enugu, UBTH Benin, JUTH Jos, UMTH Maiduguri, UDUTH Sokoto, ad FTH Katsina and Nuclear Medicine facilities in LUTH Lagos and FTH Katsina.
Ehanire noted that he will be presenting memos to Council for procurement, installation and training for Radiotherapy and Nuclear medicine facilities at benefiting institutions for implementation before the end of March 2023.
The minister observed said that Prevention is a key strategy for cancer control as treatment is very expensive adding that steps are also being taken to improve cancer services to children, working with development partners for access to comprehensive treatment for childhood cancers which require particular attention.
The minister noted that the theme of the 2023 World Cancer Day ‘Closing the Cancer Care Gap’ seeks to address the dichotomy between different social classes in respect of access to care adding that the Federal Ministry of Health under my leadership has achieved several ‘FIRSTs’ in improving access to quality and affordable cancer services nationwide.
He said, “The Federal Ministry of Health collaborated with partners to introduce the Cancer Access Partnership (CAP) Programs, to provide quality anticancer medicines to patients at 50% of the market price. The CAP program currently operates in Sixteen (16) Tertiary Hospitals, but I have now approved the inclusion of all Tertiary Hospitals across the country. Furthermore, I approved the inclusion of diagnostic services, such as immunohistochemistry (IHC) in the CAP Program for optimal cancer management. The CAP program exists in about 10 other countries, but Nigeria CAP is the first among them to implement, so others are being tutored by us to strengthen their programs since we have made a great impact with over 3,500 cancer patients currently accessing care on the program. It is still in the spirit of ‘Closing the Care gap’ that the Federal Government established the Cancer Health Fund (CHF) for comprehensive treatment of cancers of the breast, cervix and prostate to indigent patients, at no cost, in all six geopolitical zones”.
“CHF is driven by donors and contributions: I, therefore, call on all and sundry to donate generously, to enable us to increase beneficiaries and expand coverage, with regard to other cancer types, especially childhood cancers. CHF is another first and a legacy project in Nigeria’s history, with over 431 patients currently benefiting from the Fund. Plans are underway to add at least six more cancer treatment centres to the inventory and ensure wider reach of the Fund”, he added
The minister noted that the Federal Ministry of Health is collaborating with the global community to give priority attention to cervical Cancer, the second most common cancer in Nigeria, with an effort to eliminate the cancer of the cervix by the year 2030 in line with the WHO target adding that Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine is being introduced into the National Program on Immunization, as we scale up secondary cancer prevention interventions being funded by UNitaid, through the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI).
He observed that the program started in Lagos, Rivers and Kaduna States and now scaled up to involve Niger, Kebbi, Ondo and Ekiti States.
Earlier, the Managing Director of STEPCHO Nigeria Ltd, Mr Benjamin Ubiri explained that a Brachytherapy machine is widely used in the treatment of cancer, it is a form of radiation therapy where a sealed radiation source is placed inside or next to the area requiring treatment.
According to Ubiri, Brachytherapy is commonly used as an effective treatment for cervical, prostate, breast and skin cancer and can also be used to treat tumours in many other body sites treatment results have demonstrated that the cancer-cure rates of brachytherapy are either comparable to surgery and external beam radiotherapy (EBRT) or are improved when used in combination with these techniques.
He noted that Brachytherapy can be used alone or in combination with other therapies such as surgery, EBRT and chemotherapy
Also speaking, President and CEO of the Nigerian Cancer Society (NCS), Dr Adamu Alhassan Umar stated that despite the huge achievements in cancer control and prevention in Nigeria, there is a huge cancer care gap in the areas of access to cancer care by our teaming cancer patients, cancer registration, low budgetary provision to health and cancer research amongst others in our country, Nigeria.
He noted that it is therefore expedient for all hands to be on deck towards addressing these gaps as Nigeria targets to achieve universal health coverage for all Nigerians.
He commended President Muhammad Buhari for appointing Dr. Usman Aliyu Malami, an astute Clinical and radiation Oncologist as the Pioneer Director-General of the National Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment stressing that the institute will close the huge care gap in cancer registration and cancer research in Nigeria.
Umar observed that the commissioning of Brachytherapy Machines in 5 Federal Teaching Hospitals is another milestone on the road to building resilient and sustainable health systems in Nigeria.