Sanwo-Olu, Obasa and the battle against cancer in Lagos

By Jide Babafemi

One negative about Nigeria is the fact that the country lacks effective data-bases that could be relied on for policy and development purposes. Almost all that is done is built on estimation. Thus, it would not be out of place to peg its population at 170 million currently.

And, based on this estimation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) believes that the country should have 170 centres for cancer, that dreaded ailment that continues to take a toll on various parts of the world. But how many are in existence? Again, how affordable are its treatment, especially in a country filled with indigents and high dependants on government?

Some of these thoughts may have prodded Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, the speaker of the Lagos House of Assembly, to come up with the State’s Cancer Research Institute Law passed in 2017 and aimed at not just making Lagos another first in such efforts among states, but also making sufferers feel the impact of government through subsidized and affordable medical care.

It is believed that an estimated 80,000 people die annually in Nigeria from the different forms of cancer and the situation could be worse by 2030. Streamlining this down to Lagos with a huge population hovering between 23 million and 24 million, becoming pro-active, pro-active in this regard will not be a waste.

The law, as passed by the Lagos Assembly, provides for researches concerning the ‘Big C’ and other related issues. It also provides for “latest and advanced technological diagnostic instruments for the treatment of the disease and those close to it. This would, in a way, reduce dependence on medical tourism which, in a way, affects the state’s economy. The law also tends to fully move for the improvement of state hospitals where such care would be given as classic professionalism from the caregivers. Would such an opportunity help reduce unemployment? While the answer remains obvious, the real picture should be how it would enhance the already sustained great relationship between the government and the people. Section 4 of the law talks about a board for the institute peopled with a chairman who ‘shall’ be an oncologist, two medical practitioners, a representative each from the WHO, the Department for International Development (DFID), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID, an experience nurse, a clinical pharmacist, a cancer survivor with integrity, a representative from complementary alternative medicine practice and a medical director.

“The institute shall appoint such number of professional and non-professional staff including reputable and competent consultants in the medical field and allied development services for the purpose of effectively discharging its functions under this law,” states section 27(1) of the law with 35 sections passed by Akinwunmi Ambode on February 8, 2018.

While sections 9 to 12 of the bill talk about the functions of the board, section 13 makes it mandatory for a cancer registry and screening centre to be opened in all the local government areas of the state to provide primary attention to those diagnosed with the ailment, carry out a referral of such patients to a state-owned tertiary healthcare facility and collate data relating to the ailment.

Among a list of assistants to be carried out by the institute, its tasks include conducting researches, investigations, experiments and studies relating to the cause, prevention and treatment of cancer; carrying our enlightenment campaigns on the disease; collaborating with related agencies in and outside the country; providing medical assistance to patience.

One very interesting part of the law sees government’s practical commitment to the protection of lives and ensuring that the governed are satisfied. It stipulates in section 15: “A cancer patient admitted or being treated in any state-owned tertiary institution or medical centre shall have the payment for the treatment and drugs subsidized through endowment fund or grants allocated for this purpose.” True to professionalism, the law emphasizes that keeping the identities of patients secret, except for authorized purposes. It also kicks against stigmatization of victims.

To ensure that the institute stands the test of time, the law makes provision for a council to oversee its operations and monitor implementation of government policies as it relates to cancer. The council is further expected to monitor outbreak of infectious diseases and formulate policies for the institute.

In her assessment of the bill sponsored by Obasa, a Lagos resident, Bilkis Ogunnub, noted in an opinion piece published by The Punch that “in Nigeria, breast and cervical cancers are the commonest ones diagnosed in women, while prostate cancer remains the often diagnosed for men. And like other developing countries, cancer remains a public health challenge in Nigeria where approximately 10,000 people die and 250,000 new cases are reported annually.

She argues that the incidences of the ailment, particularly breast cancer in Nigeria, are increasing just like in other developing countries with factors she quoted including westernization.

“But this disease that can affect male and female of all ages does not just appear out of nowhere; it has definite causes that can be corrected if the body has enough time, and if actions are taken to change the body’s internal environment to one that creates health while at the same time attacking cancerous cells and tumour by exploiting their weaknesses,” she adds.

Ogunnub notes that cancer is a curable disease that should not be allowed to terminate life, but must be detected early enough.

“This is where the establishment of a cancer institute as contained in the bill sponsored by the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly is important,” she says in the piece.

Ogunnub is not the only Lagosian who has commended Speaker Obasa for coming up with this heart-warming law. There is no doubting the fact that the executive and the legislature in Lagos are matching towards a greater and more inhabitable state. There is also no doubt that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu will look at this bill favourably and make Lagos proud. Obasa has etched his name in gold.

Jide Babafemi, an analyst and resident of Lagos, writes from Ikorodu area of the state.