By Obijiofor Aginam
February 4 is World Cancer Day! Created in 2000, World Cancer Day is “the global uniting initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).” It has grown into a positive movement for individuals and societies in various regions of the world to “unite under one voice to face one of our greatest challenges in history”.Focusing on the theme of this year’s World Cancer Day, “Closing the Care Gap”, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that “cancer is one of the world’s leading causes of death, and its burden is growing. In 2021, the world crossed a sobering new threshold – an estimated 20 million people were diagnosed with cancer, and 10 million died. These numbers will continue to rise in the decades ahead. And yet all cancers can be treated, and many can be prevented or cured”. The WHO further stated that cancer care and treatment, like so many other diseases, “reflects the inequalities and inequities of our world. The clearest distinction is between high- and low-income countries, with comprehensive treatment reportedly available in more than 90% of high-income countries but less than 15% of low-income countries”.
On this World Cancer Day, I remember Dr Athanasius Obiadazie, Nkemdirim Orabuche, and Rev Fr Emmanuel Anulunko, three wonderful human beings struck down by cancer in the last two months of 2021. Although the paths of this “cancer trio”crossed with mine at different times and circumstances, their passing left an indelible scar in my mind. Dr Athanasius Obiadazie was my secondary school classmate, and University roommate, an accomplished dental surgeon and Consultant in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, claimed his life in November 2021. Ndemdirim Orabuche was a sister from my extended family, the powerful traditional Umunna kindred that bindsextended families together in Southeast Nigeria. Sister Diri, as we fondly call her, a woman endowed with infectious candor and uncommon humility, succumbed to colon cancer in November 2021. Rev Fr Emmanuel Anulunko, a Priest of the Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia epitomizes the finest qualities of humanity: simplicity, discipline, humility, joviality, conviviality, decency, honesty. He delivered a memorable Homily at my Late father’s Vigil Mass in May 2012. Fr Anulunko died in December 2021.
On this Word Cancer Day, as I reflect on the lives and times of these three wonderful human beings, so many questions come to mind. What might be responsible for the recent surge in different types of cancer in Nigeria? Is it change in lifestyles, dietary habits, and unhealthy food? Is it exposure to environmental hazards and pollution? Is it that advances in medical technologies have made it easier to detect cancers that are undetected in past decades? While certain cancers are hereditary, others are caused by lifestyle changes, food and dietary habits, pollution, exposure to radiation during medical treatments, and other factors. We are fast becoming a cancerogenic society. In the last 1-2 years, on a very close scrutiny, I doubt if there is any Nigerian who has not been directly or indirectly affected by cancer or cancer-related death of a relative, friend, classmate, or colleague at work.
AsWorld Cancer Day is a day to honour and remember everyone affected by cancerand take action to change the future of the disease forever, I do hope that Governments at various levels in Nigeria will partner with civil society and relevant professional bodies to address the four common risk factors that drive noncommunicable diseases including cancer: tobacco (smoking), harmful use of alcohol, lack of physical activity, and unhealthy diets.
*Obijiofor Aginam, PhD, is Adjunct Research Professor of Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, and Consultant to the United Nations University-Centre for Policy Research (UNU-CPR), New York on “Policy Approaches to Health as a Global Public Good”.