By Dr Laz Ude Eze

Today is World Cancer Day! It is no news that cancer has become an epidemic in Nigeria. It is no news that many – young and old, male and female, rich and poor – have been killed by cancer. It is no news that in Nigeria, cancer diagnosis creates huge financial burden on patients and their families and friends. Likewise, it is no news that government health financing in Nigeria has been abysmally and unacceptably poor. But as we commemorate the World Cancer Day today, there is news for you. Pink Oak is news! What is Pink Oak, you may want to ask? I will explain after you may have read this story.

A 32-year old Inioluwa Igwe presented at the Out-Patient Clinic of General Hospital, Okposi with the history of a painless right breast lump she detected 6 months earlier while taking her bath. Inioluwa is a mother to 3 children (aged 6, 4 and 2 years) and works as a Senior Administrative Officer in a private firm. Her monthly net pay is about N150,000 without any health insurance coverage. Her husband, Mr. Igwe is a primary school teacher and earns a net salary of N93, 000 monthly.

The lump had rough edges and was about 2cm in size. She was initially hesitant about going to the hospital and had seen her spiritual leader who prescribed a 7-day fasting and prayer against the spirit of cancer. She decided to see a doctor when the lump appeared to be getting bigger despite the spiritual interventions. After a thorough evaluation at a teaching hospital she was referred to, Inioluwa was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. A special test known as immunohistochemistry done to determine the type of breast cancer showed that it was HER2 positive. This type of breast cancer usually occurs in 1 out of 5 Nigerians with breast cancer. It is very aggressive but also responds very well to an expensive medication. She was given a week’s appointment to get the results of the various tests done and to discuss a treatment plan, but the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU) – a labour union of health workers except doctors had embarked on an indefinite strike over a dispute with government. Inioluwa had done many tests already and couldn’t afford to pay for fresh tests in a private hospital. While she was waiting, the cancer had spread to her right armpit.

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When the strike was suspended, she returned to the hospital and had to repeat most of the tests she had done earlier; the cancer was showing signs of having spread to other parts of the body. These tests cost Inioluwa an additional N80,000. She was counseled on drug treatment which was estimated to cost about N13 million – an amount that is more than four times the annual net salary of Inioluwa and the husband.

Inioluwa reached out to family, friends, her religious leaders, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), etc asking for help. Her friends shared her photos on social media and a TV station helped to share her story. Donations came in trickles and she was only able to realize N1.8 million over a 7 month period. She had been commenced on the drug treatment but defaulted due to her inability to raise the funds to procure the drugs. “Within the year, lack of funds denied her of sustained treatment, resulting in Inioluwa’s death, following the florid spread of the cancer, to the chest, abdomen and brain.” Mr. Igwe lost his beloved wife who brought in 60% of the total earnings of his family and primarily took care of the children.

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He had sold their car and a landed property he inherited from his dad and used up his savings to treat Inioluwa and bury her remains. He got depressed later and took to alcoholism. The children got malnourished, the worst hit was the youngest – a 3-year old boy who later died from complications of protein energy malnutrition.  Cancer had created a negative turn to the fortunes of the family. The system failed the Igwes.

The above fictional representation of a true life story is the usual fate of over 90,000 Nigerians who die of cancer every year – the highest in any single country of the world. Could it have been different? Yes, it could! The Pink Oak Cancer Trust – Nigeria’s First Cancer Treatment Fund is here to partner with the Nigerian people and make a difference. The aim is simple – Pink Oak will raise funds from corporate organizations, philanthropic foundations, government and well-meaning individuals. The money realized shall be used to provide financial assistance to Nigerians diagnosed with cancer who are unable to afford treatment. Pink Oak will work closely with existing cancer advocacy organizations to improve access to cancer treatment and prevent untimely deaths from cancer.

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With a Governing Board chaired by the Founder of GTBank, Mr. Fola Adeola and populated by eminent men and women of high moral standard and integrity, efficient management of the resources is assured. In fact, Pink Oak is arguably the biggest thing to happen to the cancer world today. No doubt, it is a good reason for Nigerians and cancer advocates globally to be excited. On this note, permit me to say, Happy World Cancer Day! Join us and #DonateToWinCancer! Follow Pink Oak on twitter and Facebook.

 

Dr Eze is a health management expert and the Executive Director of the Pink Oak Cancer Trust. He tweets @donlaz4u. For questions about Pink Oak, mail laz.eze@pinkoak.org