With statistics showing millions of children diagnosed with cancer worldwide -80 percent of these children live in low to middle income countries such as Nigeria.
Across all ages, ethnic groups and socio-economics, childhood cancer remains the number one leading non-infectious disease-related cause of death in developing countries, with 43 children diagnosed with cancer everyday - 12 percent of those diagnosed do not survive, bringing the survival rate very lower.
According to report, about four children die of cancer daily in Nigeria, due to the following reasons, which include: Late presentation, high cost of cancer treatment, superstitious beliefs, financial constraints and lack of access and inadequate treatment facilities.
To this end experts have called for urgent intervention and proactive ways to reduce the burden of this disease in children through increased awareness to improve early detection, accurate diagnosis, adequate and quality healthcare service to enable prompt and proper treatment of the disease, as well as the cost.
They said cancer, if detected early can be treated or cured - also calling on the government, the private sector players, donor agencies and the non-governmental organisations to invest more in cancer care by making treatment accessible and affordable, thereby reducing the huge financial burden on the parents who are still struggling to pay out of pocket.
The founder of The Dorcas Cancer Foundation (TDCF), a non-governmental organisation for children living with cancer, Dr. Adedayo Joseph, during a Childhood Cancer Handbook Series Launch, organised by the outfit recently, noted that children were dying of cancer on a daily basis as a result of expensive treatment, which many Nigerian parents cannot afford.
She also decried lack of facilities and equipment for diagnosis and treatment, with the few available ones in the country obsolete or worn out.
"There are specialist in this country, but they don’t have the equipment to do the work despite the increasing number of patients, even when available, treatment is expensive, so you find the cost of treating a child with cancer from the start to the end is between N2 million to N4 million and how many Nigerian can afford such amount. We find out that families cant afford such treatment and hence when they bring their children to the hospital and confronted with the cost, they take their children back, watching them die slowly to cancer, which leaves the traumatized and helpless," she said.
She also stressed that most parents who go ahead to start the treatment and then stop half way due to lack of funds, leave the child in a more sever state, which could lead to immediate death.
"The implication of not completing treatment of cancer is very severe, cancer biology shows that when you start receiving radiation and then stop at a point, the growth can accelerate and grow faster than it was growing before commencing treatment," Joseph said.
Joseph who is a Clinical Radiation Oncologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), decried late prognosis by doctors and also non-referrals, which has left many children dead to the disease.
"A lot of children visit the hospital repeatedly due to the common reason such as cold, malaria, fever, food poisoning among others, there is need to investigate further and look for a deeper cause, so that these children are not treated for a whole year before being treated for cancer, which is what healthcare professionals miss out, as early detection, diagnosis and treatment saves lives," she added.
Emphasizing on the need for Nigeria to have a robust data in order to increase the surviving rate, Joseph said, "We need to create a data collective system from the hospitals, communities, healthcare professionals among others, so that we can have accurate data to reduce the incidence of the disease to the barest minimum."
According to her, the foundation, through the book launched, seeks to dispel the stigma associated with the disease and provide information about cancer in general to the parents and physicians, with good understanding about facts and myths surrounding cancer.
She noted that the foundation, which was established two years ago in memory of late Dorcas Adepitan, a 13-year-old girl, who died of osteosarcoma, a bone cancer in 2015, had so far, sponsored the treatment of four children with many still awaiting sponsorship.
She, however, called for the support of well meaning individuals, Corporate and Business Organizations and Government parastatals as they champion the fight against Childhood Cancer.
A board member of the foundation, Dr. Peju Daodu, said though, Nigeria is ranked as a developing country; no child should be allowed to die of cancer in the country, going by her huge natural resources.
She said, the suspicion index rate of cancer in children needs to be increased, with immediate referrals when the cause of sickness remains unknown to the doctors, who manage the ailment causing it to worsen on late prognosis. She called on parents to seek second and third opinion from specialists to ascertain the cause of their child’s ailment.
Emphasizing on the signs to look out for, she listed: "abdominal swelling, constant headache, vomiting, constant body ache, whitening of the eyes, swelling on the neck among others."
Daodu, however, called on the government to address the challenges in accessing cancer treatment in the country and to also invest in research.
"We have to do everything possible to change the face of cancer in Nigeria, the government needs to provide more equipment to treat cancer in the country, as the machines cost N2 million to N3 million, which is too expensive for private healthcare providers to afford", she added.
Speaking on childhood cancer survival, a Consultant Pediatric Hemato-Oncologist, LUTH, Dr. Seye Akinsete, urged the government to improve and strengthen the insurance framework to cover for the parents of the children with cancer.