The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, yesterday rolled out a new set of policies by the Federal Government aimed at strengthening the nation’s cancer management and control. In a speech to commemorate the 2016 World Cancer Day yesterday in Abuja, the minister, while acknowledging that the growing burden of cancer in Nigeria is fraught with “inadequacy of health systems, poor manpower, poor access to treatment facilities and lack of access to end of life care,” disclosed that the Buhari administration has recognized and prioritized cancer interventions as a signature project of the health sector. In addition to the planned establishment of the National Agency for Cancer Control [NACC], the minister announced new measures towards the control and management of the disease in the country.
These include the strengthening of the nation’s Primary Healthcare Systems to ensure a strong referral system and a revision of the National Strategic Plan for Cervical cancer control that would lead to the inclusion of HPV vaccination in the routine immunization program. “The pivot of the cancer control will be health promotion and prevention from primary healthcare level. To achieve this, we are working on strengthening Primary Healthcare Systems across the nation including building a formidable workforce to provide essential outreach services which will include health promotion. Our ‘One PHC per Ward’ initiative will also link up with secondary and tertiary care through strong referral systems,” he said. Prof. Adewole also announced that arrangements were underway to commence a pilot of GAVI-supported demonstration on HPV vaccination in some selected states in Nigeria.
“Human Papilloma virus [HPV] immunization of girls for cervical cancer prevention was introduced in 2011 into Nigeria by Government as an additional means of cervical cancer control and prevention. Subsequently, HPV vaccination has been available in health service outlets in Nigeria in both private and public Hospitals. Government is making effort to include it as part of the routine immunization program. “Furthermore, a National Policy/ Guideline on Prevention, Control and Management of Hepatitis in Nigeria has been developed with a view to address the rising incidence of Hepatitis in the country. The policy is also targeted at the prevention and control of liver cancer associated Hepatitis. “Presently the Federal Ministry of Health is committed to pursuing policy for a waiver of import duties for cancer medication in order to encourage the Pharmaceutical sector to bring in cancer medication in adequate amounts to cater for our needs.
“Government is planning to increase the number of Radiation service outlets in the country through the PPP options. We will soon start the process of advertisement for organisations that are interested to partner with Government. Currently the Ministry is consulting with some organisations to upgrade seven of these centers to oncology Centers of excellence. In a second phase of the upgrade process, seven more centers will be created to bring to a total of fourteen  oncology treatment centers for comprehensive cancer care in Nigeria within the next two years. “Efforts are ongoing to develop a palliative care policy and a blue print for the country. In addition, the Federal Ministry of health has requested the National Universities Commission to implement curriculum review that will allow for the incorporation of palliative care in the training of nurses and doctors in Nigeria.
“The Ministry has been actively engaged by the African Palliative Care Association and the Nigerian Palliative and Hospice Care Association to design and implement research and training programmes in designated hospitals for palliative care, with focus on pain free management of terminal conditions. “A training center for Palliative care situated at University College Hospital Ibadan trains healthcare professionals thus providing the much needed personnel to conduct this service in health centers and as well as provide palliative care as a community based service”, He further said. The minister called on all Nigerians to recognize the role they can play in reducing the burden of disease, “so we can reduce the unnecessary number of premature deaths from cancer and other NCDs to 25% by the year 2025.” In line with the theme for this year’s World Cancer Day: ‘We can, I can,’ Prof. Adewole noted that much could be done at individual, community and Government levels “to harness and mobilize solutions and catalyze positive changes. Therefore, we encourage all, be it Civil Society, private sector and various levels of Government and individuals.” He pledged that health service delivery improvement, provision for cancer and other disease conditions would continue, “especially with the commitment of Government to Universal Health Coverage and the support of the National Health Act which is a resounding ‘game changer’ for health service delivery in Nigeria.”