By Otii Esse
MON, AUGUST 7 2017-theG&BJournal–Medical experts has warned that the federal government needs to prepare for another scary pandemic like the Ebola and HIV/AID pandemic that swept through the country living thousands dead if it does not begin massive investment on creating awareness and building cancer institutions across the country soon.
The experts expressed concern about the surge in cervical cancer particularly, among the vast poor women in the rural and urban areas of the country and the potential impact that the increasing cost of treating the disease would have on the country’s female population. The issue has been among the least discussed at any legislative level in the country.
Among experts concern is the significant number of middle class, working class female population that is affected by either cost or lack of facilities when they are diagnosed of the disease. The likely outcome is a worrying drop in the number of employable female hands in the labour market and even more poverty, in what would be another drag to a market already stretched by inadequate skills.
Less attention has been paid to the risks posed by the disease in recent years. As a result the federal government and health institutions in the country may have been underestimating the risks.
“ If cervical cancer cases have been rising, predominantly influenced by poverty and cost of treatment, firms are rendered more vulnerable to tightening in the labour market and the federal government and institutions focused on cancer cases are exposed to unexpected and unbearable costs,” according to the experts.
“The only obvious way to arrest this dangerous development is to engage the Ministry of Health, Religious Bodies, Private Individuals and Non-Governmental Organizations to intensify the awareness through different media to reduce the risk and consequences of the disease,” says Dr. Prince Wokeh a gynaecologist at a Lagos General Hospital.
In the words of one senior medical doctor, the rapid incidence of cervical cancer in Nigeria is like the rapid incidence of poverty in the country-a scourge that is tearing through Nigeria’s population.
The statistic is grim. About nine thousand women between ages 15 and older die every year from the disease. It is the second most frequent cancer among women. Experts reckon that about 3.5 percent of women of the estimated 50 million of ages 15 and above habour cervical HPV-16/18 infection at a given time and 66.9 percent of invasive cervical cancers are attributed to HPVs 16 or 18 and 14,089 are diagnosed with cervical cancer.
The obvious deterrent vehicle is the cancer centers, but they are not enough or are ill equipped for managing the rapidly increasing number of cancer cases in the country.
Oncologists who spoke to theG&BJournal reckon that these numbers are likely to double, fed by ignorance or lack of awareness and continued absence of properly equipped medical facilities for managing the disease.
Most Nigerian women especially those in rural areas do not know what cervical cancer is and how to approach the treatment. Speaking to women on the street, surprisingly 8 out of 10 women did not know what cervical cancer was. This lack of knowledge has been attributed to one of the increasing cases of cervical cancer in Nigeria.
“It has to be on the front burner as priority policy case for the federal ministry of health and those who legislate on health matters in the country,” says My Ayo Fajo, a Lagosian whose wife was diagnosed for the deadly disease in its later stages.
“”In my wife’s case, we thought it was just a normal recurrent illness at first, but it became obvious to us that it was something more than an ordinary illness. Our pain is that none of the hospitals or doctors we visited could explain her condition,” Fajo said in obvious agony while narrating why it took them so long to get to the real problem his wife has.
What is unclear is how much attention the federal government is paying to the scourge, such as budgeting to create awareness and cancer centers across the country but what is clear is that cervical cancer is not as deadly as it appears. At early stage of presentation, the chances are about 99 percent survival rate, according to one doctor.
“It only becomes deadly at later stages. At stages 3 to 4 it becomes deadly. That is why it is advised to frequently do check-ups if you notice abnormalities in your system,” he added.
Dr Wokeh outlined some of the abnormalities to watch for; a person may experience no symptoms at all, at early stages of cervical cancer but signs to watch out for are: bleeding between periods, bleeding after sexual intercourse, bleeding in post-menopausal women, discomfort during sexual intercourse, smelly vaginal discharge, discharge tinged with blood and pelvic pain. These symptoms could raise other causes, including sexually transmitted infection. Anyone who experiences any of these symptoms should see a doctor immediately he said.
Dr Wokeh said having many sexual partners or becoming sexually active at an early age are some factors that birth cervical cancer.
“ (HPV) Human Papilloma Virus types are nearly always transmitted as a result of sexual contact with an infected individual,” he said.
Cervical cancer is cancer that begins in the uterine cervix, the lower end, of the uterus that contacts the upper vagina. It is called cervical erosion medically but commonly described as virginal discharge.