Delegates at a recent three-day national health summit organised by the Nigerian Medical Students’ Association, NiMSA, list factors that may inhibit the country from achieving the health components of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals
The cancer scourge and its ravaging effects have long been a recurring decimal in the Nigerian health sector. Indeed, most Nigerian families have known the misery of losing loved ones to this deadly but all too often preventable disease. Yet, a larger proportion of the populace are not aware of or do not have the full knowledge of what the ailment known as cancer is all about, not to talk of the predisposing factors, symptoms, screening methods, treatment and preventive measures available.
This submission was made at the end of a three-day national health summit organised by the Nigerian Medical Students’ Association, NiMSA, recently. The summit, which took place at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Idiaraba, Lagos, was held in honour of Auwal Shanono, NiMSA’s immediate past president who lost his life in the process of organising a similar event. During the course of the summit, which focused on the various forms of cancer and Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, awareness, according to Adeniyi Adetola, general secretary, NiMSA, it became obvious that a lot still needs to be done, if the country is to achieve the goal of combating diseases such as cancer, malaria and HIV/AIDS, as spelt out the MDGs.
According to a communiqué issued at the end of the summit, certain factors would be required to be in place, to meet the challenges and diagnoses of the different forms of cancer. One of these factors would be the installation of enough cancer screening centres across the country. Another requirement would be for these cancer-screening centres to be well equipped to meet the challenges of diagnosis and management of the disease.
NiMSA observed that these cogent requirements have sadly not been met. For instance, it emphasises the importance of certain drugs needed in the management of cancer. “These drugs and those needed as palliatives, especially Morphines, are not readily available,” the communiqué noted. The summit also noted that the progress toward the actualisation of the MDGs has been slow and should this trend continue, the 2015 target might not be met.
Concerning the statistical/health indices available for the health-related MDGs, the association noted that it was not a true reflection of what obtained in reality. Mention was also made of the country’s primary health care system and its inadequacies. The association said the country’s primary healthcare system is at the moment “overburdened and constrained, thereby preventing it from meeting the actual needs of the general public.”
The delegates also noted in the communiqué that there are daunting challenges inhibiting the training of doctors throughout the country at the moment. For instance, they expressed disappointment over the issue of non-accreditation of some Nigerian medical colleges, resulting in a lot of members “spending a huge chunk of their youthful life in school” with no prospect of practising medicine at the end of their training. The communiqué made it clear that medical students spend four-to-five years in a class with no hope of promotion to the next class, because of this issue on non-accreditation of their schools.
Besides, the students also listed what they described as huge differences in the training curriculum of medical education in Nigeria and other hindrances militating against qualitative education. One of these challenges is the non-availability of funds in the form of scholarships/grants to medical students. These are needed to help support medical training and to also enable medical students participate/attend conferences and trainings both locally and internationally. This is deemed necessary to ensure capacity building, which would in turn translate to the improvement of health care delivery in the country.
At the end of the summit, far-reaching resolutions were arrived at and these are listed below: That the business of creating awareness about cancer should be the duty of all stakeholders in the health sector, in order to supplement the efforts of the National Cancer Control Programme, non-governmental organisations and the student body (NiMSA) in fighting the scourge of cancer in our environment; and that all the drugs needed in the treatment of cancer should be made available, affordable and accessible, though not in the absence of the required regulation and monitoring to avoid their illicit use, especially those used in pain management such as Morphine.
Other resolutions are: that the federal government should further strengthen the National Health Insurance Scheme, to alleviate the out-of-pocket expenses of Nigerians and cancer patients in particular; the government should increase the number of cancer screening and specialist care/cancer research centres across the country, in order to better the lot of every Nigerian in the area of cancer diagnosis and treatment; and that the government should help revitalise the primary health system in Nigeria by investing more in it, in order to provide the necessary facilities and equipment needed to ensure good health care services is made available to the citizenry. NiMSA also wants government, as well as the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, to resolve pending issues of accreditation of medical colleges in the country by proffering definitive solutions to the lingering problem.