October Cancer Awareness Month: Steps towards Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria

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October is a global landmark month for health promotion. This month is marked as International Cancer Awareness Month with special emphasis on breast cancer, the most common cancer in women globally.

Incidentally, the most important advocacy and communications day in the eye health calendar also occurs in October (the second Thursday of October every year, designated as World Sight Day). This year, World Sight Day falls on the 10th of October, 2019, with the call to action being: ‘Vision First!’

This is therefore an important opportunity to draw attention to all the challenges posed by these health issues to ensure that we all rally round to bring about sustainable solution to the problems.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, 1 out of every 3 persons in the world will be diagnosed of cancer in their lifetime. Over 18 million people develop cancer yearly with 9.6 million deaths from cancer every year. Cancer now contributes to 1 in 6 deaths globally. Unfortunately, 70% of cancer deaths occur in developing countries like Nigeria due to late detection. Latest WHO data shows that every day in Nigeria 32 women die of breast cancer, 28 women die of cervical cancer, 16 men die daily from prostate cancer and 14 persons die of liver cancer.

Similarly, data on the global blindness burden is staggering. According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), one person in the world goes blind every five seconds and a child goes blind every minute. Globally, more than one billion people who need eyeglasses do not have access to glasses. Ninety (90%) of blind people live in developing countries and 3 out of 4 cases of blindness and visual impairment are avoidable. In Nigeria, there are currently over one million blind adults aged 40 years and above.

Sadly, blindness also has significant impact on the life expectancy of the individual. Globally, the life expectancy of blind persons is one-third less than that of their sighted age mates, and most of them die within 10 years of becoming blind. In Africa, the poor and blind live 20 years less than those who are only poor and 60% of children die within 2 years of becoming blind.

This dismal disparity in the impact of these health challenges between the developed and developing countries negates the WHO constitution of 1948 declaring health a fundamental human right as well as the Health for All agenda set by the Alma Ata declaration in 1978. This is a time for all to consider the clarion call by WHO to ensure Universal health coverage (UHC) so that all individuals and communities can have access to quality and essential promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services without being exposed to financial hardship in the process.

To this end, mass medical mission initiated the National Cancer Prevention Programme (NCPP), which has been spearheading community-based mass cancer screening across the country since 2007. Over 200,000 people have been screened / vaccinated and treated since then. Moreover, millions of others have been reached through its massive awareness and advocacy campaigns. This has contributed to a reduction of cancer deaths in Nigeria from 240 deaths daily to 196 deaths daily between 2008 and 2018 (WHO data).

mass medical mission has now scaled up its effort to include several free life-saving initiatives such as :
• Mission PinkCruise (free community-based health outreaches with the PinkCruise)
• Mission PinkVISSION (the eye aspect of the free community outreach using Mobile Ophthalmic unit aka PinkVISSION), where “VISSION” stands for Voluntary Integrated Sight Saving Initiative Of Nigeria)
• Mission PinkDentist (dental aspect of the free outreach using Mobile Dental Centre aka PinkDentist)
• Free screening at the Lagos centre every Wednesday (Wellness Wednesday) and Friday (Family Friday).

The PinkCruise is the first of its kind and is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for screening and treatment (including mammography, endoscopy, colonoscopy, colposcopy, cryotherapy, laboratory tests, vaccination and surgeries). The free health missions of mass medical mission are targeted primarily at the underprivileged and are free to both the hosts and beneficiaries.

To mark the October International Cancer Awareness Month and World Sight Day, all are invited to the ongoing free cancer, eye and dental screening taking place every Wednesday and Friday at mass medical mission House, 31 Bode Thomas Street, Surulere, Lagos.

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