Home » Scarcity of Diagnostic Services Hampers Cancer Care in Southeast Nigeria

Scarcity of Diagnostic Services Hampers Cancer Care in Southeast Nigeria

by Oluwatosin Racheal Alabi

Despite significant advancements in healthcare, the battle against cancer, especially in terms of prevention and treatment, remains an uphill struggle in Nigeria. This article delves into the challenges surrounding access to diagnostic services, a crucial aspect of cancer care, and its impact on the South-eastern region of the country.

The Stark Reality: Lack of MRI Machines

Public hospitals in the South-east of Nigeria are currently unable to provide Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) services for cancer detection. This deficiency is especially alarming given that the region’s five states may account for around 13% of the yearly death rate from cancer, primarily due to factors such as lifestyle choices, consumption of processed foods, diets, smoking, alcohol intake, and multiple starchy foods.

Limited Access to Diagnosis

Investigations have revealed efforts to refurbish and equip the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, as the focal cancer care center for the region. Nevertheless, an estimated 22 million residents in the South-east continue to face significant challenges. They are forced to either seek cancer diagnosis in private facilities within the region or travel to public tertiary facilities in Lagos, Ibadan, or even the Northern parts of the country.

The Challenge of Mammography

Until 2007, none of the tertiary hospitals in the South-east possessed mammography machines for breast cancer detection, compounding the region’s diagnostic challenges.

Cost-Prohibitive Access

The acquisition of a modern MRI machine, which is essential for accurate cancer diagnosis, comes with a substantial financial burden. Additionally, monthly maintenance costs further strain budgets, forcing residents to seek these services in private facilities where the cost is prohibitively high, making it inaccessible to ordinary people.

Expert Voices on the Crisis

Professor Ifeoma Okoye from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), expressed her frustration at the situation. She highlighted that UNTH, as one of Nigeria’s premier teaching hospitals, still lacks an MRI machine, despite numerous appeals to political representatives. The absence of essential diagnostic facilities means that patients must be referred elsewhere for critical services, even when expert medical personnel are available.

Dr. Greg Ogbuisi, a Public Health Specialist, emphasized that poverty remains a significant barrier to timely medical care. He urged well-to-do individuals in the region to support efforts to provide affordable diagnosis and treatment facilities in government hospitals, increasing public hospital utilization and contributing to tackling diseases like cancer effectively.

Hope on the Horizon: UNTH’s Efforts

Dr. Nwamaka Lasebikan, the Director of the Oncology Centre at UNTH, Enugu, acknowledged the superior diagnostic capabilities of MRI compared to CT scans. While an MRI machine is lacking, UNTH has invested heavily in providing comprehensive cancer treatment. The recently refurbished Oncology Centre aims to become a hub for cancer care in the region.

The Road Ahead

Residents in the South-east region suffering from cancer have been traveling to other parts of the country, particularly Ibadan, for comprehensive diagnosis and treatment. While progress is being made with the improved facilities at UNTH, the acquisition of an MRI machine remains a critical need.

Efforts to make healthcare facilities more affordable and accessible to the general population are vital. Collaboration between the public and private sectors can help bridge these gaps and ensure that no one in the region is denied timely diagnosis and treatment for cancer. The challenge is substantial, but with collective action, there is hope for a brighter future in the fight against cancer in South-east Nigeria.

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