Rita Nwobodo, who taught at a private school in Warri, Delta State, is one of the cancer patients who fought and lost this one-sided battle with cancer. She succumbed to breast cancer, three months after the radiotherapy machine that could have helped her to win the fight packed up. Her husband, Tony, believes his spouse wouldn’t have died if the machine worked.
“Her death could have been avoided if Nigeria had more radiotherapy machines. She was receiving treatment at LUTH before the radiotherapy machine developed a fault. I still remember holding her in my arms and promising her that she would live to see the New Year,” he said. Rita died in November. Tony, distraught and angry that his wife’s chances might have been brighter if the machine worked, asked, “How many more cancer patients will die before the New Year?”
Radiotherapy is one of the key treatments that medical science uses to fight cancer. However, as Tony discovered during his search for treatment for Rita, only two government hospitals had radiotherapy machines in a nation of 170million people. The two machines are to be found at the National Hospital, Abuja and Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto.
“Travelling to Sokoto or Abuja was a major challenge. The distance would have been too stressful for her. It is really heartbreaking that Nigeria couldn’t save her life,” he said.
Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, used to have a functional radiotherapy machine but SUNDAY PUNCH’s findings showed that it had packed up.
RajiOlayiwola, who frequently took his mother-in-law, Mrs. Wura Allen, 76, to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital for weekly treatment of cervical cancer, described the futile search of Nigerian cancer patients for quality medical treatment as ‘bitter.’
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Raji said, “It has been a bitter experience for my whole family. Sometimes, I wonder how corruption was able to eat so deep into the health sector. One town in Nairobi, Kenya, has about six radiotherapy machines, why can’t Nigeria follow suit?
“Initially, we took her to Eko hospital (a private hospital) before moving her to LUTH. There, we didn’t stay up to two weeks before the machine packed up. We were then referred back to Eko (hospital) and some patients were referred to Sokoto.”
According to him, the hospitals with radiotherapy machines are LUTH; University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Benin; University College Hospital, Ibadan; National Hospital, Abuja; Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria; Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto; University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu; and a Lagos-based private hospital, Eko Hospital.
Dr. Braimoh said five of these machines; in Lagos, Benin, Abuja, Enugu and Sokoto; were linear accelerators. Three were old Cobalt-60 machines, found in Zaria, Ibadan and Eko Hospital.
Dr. OmololaFatiregun, a radiotherapist, said, “Currently, only two of these machines are functioning in Nigeria. This contributes to the delay in treatment, increases waiting times for patients, resulting in progression in growth of cancer cells as well as spread to other organs. Some patients would need to travel a distance of more than 600 km to access the nearest radiotherapy service. According to international best practice, radiation treatment facility within a 100 km distance is deemed appropriate. There is an obvious and urgent need for more standard cancer treatments with radiotherapy services in Nigeria.”
According to Braimoh, “Nigeria needs at least two functional ones in each of the geo-political zones of Nigeria, which makes 12 functional machines.”
As a result of this dearth of radiotherapy machines and first-class medical care, Nigerians, who have the means, travel to India with the hope of getting inexpensive, but quality cancer treatment. Medical treatment in India cost about Rs 30,000 ($453.86), which is about half of the fees that hospitals in Western countries charge, said The Times of India.
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