1 billion Cancer Fund not enough- Panelists

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Panelists at the Legislative Health Summit in Abuja, on Friday, urged legislators and stakeholders to increase the N1 billion Cancer Fund proposed by the Senate Committee on Health toward tackling the spread of the scourge in the country.

The panelists, however, commended the initiative as announced by Sen. Ibrahim Oloriegbe, Chairman, Senate Committee on Health at the summit with the theme “Efficiency and Effectiveness in Nigeria Health: The Role of Legislators in Decentralised Democracy.”

Oloriegbe said the proposed N1 billion in the 2020 budget “is the starting point”, adding that stakeholders should discuss ways to expand resources and manage the fund so that the poor and vulnerable could benefit from it.

Panelists who spoke at the Plenary Session of the summit on “ Innovative Financing for Non-Communicable Diseases in Nigeria – Setting up
Catastrophic Health Fund, said it would take combined effort of the three tiers of government, private and well-meaning Nigerians to make the fund efficient.

According to them, there is need to build the capacity of medical practitioners to manage equipment and support the private sector to complement the efforts of stakeholders.

Dr Bello Abubakar, a Consultant Oncologist, National Hospital, Abuja, said cancer kill more people than malaria, tuberculosis and HIV combined.

He said “Nigeria, with a population of more than 180 million, will require 180 radiotherapy machines but we have only four of such machine
functioning. Also, the country requires 3,000 clinical oncologists to be able to manage those machines and administer chemotherapy. We have 70 clinical oncologists, out of the number, 10 left the country in the past three months for greener pasture.”

According to him, the situation is a serious one as patients cannot afford treatment, and 99 per cent of patients use out of pocket expenses to treat cancer.

“So, we must find a way to fund cancer treatment because the proposed N1 billion Cancer Fund is inadequate.’’

Dr Rahmatu Hassan, former National Coordinator, National Cancer Control Programme, Federal Ministry of Health, said the fund would not be
enough for treatment and to build the capacity of personnel handling the cases.

Hassan said the Federal Government should have trained and built the capacity of the medical personnel to handle the cases a long time ago.

She added that “without the requisite personnel on ground, we would not be able to provide the kind of treatment that should be given to cancer patients. We should have expanded the coverage of national health insurance to accommodate more patients. We should have had a special fund that would be used for investigation, treatment and routine check because all of these are expensive. Now that we are late, such fund should be created and stakeholders should contribute to provide treatment for cancer patients.”

The summit is the 3rd annual edition of Legislative Summit on Universal Health Coverage (UHC), bringing both national and state lawmakers to discuss and take decisions toward ensuring that all individuals and communities receive health services they need without suffering financial hardship.

Bilkisu Pai