23,000 persons living with cancer in Nigeria

cancer in Nigeria

There are currently more than 50 million people living within five years of a post-cancer diagnosis worldwide (up from 43.8 million in 2018), with over 230,000 of them in Nigeria.

This was made know by Dr Abia Nzelu, Executive Secretary, ↓↑GivingTide International, on the occasion of this year National Cancer Survival Day (NCSD) celebration, which falls on 6th June 2021. A statement by Dr Nzelu, made available to Rulers World at the weekend, stated that the day is an important opportunity to address the disparity in cancer survivorship, honour the fallen warriors (those who have succumbed to cancer) whilst raising awareness on the ongoing challenges currently facing cancer survivors.

While pointing out that cancer cuts short lives, hopes, dreams, careers and destinies, leaving behind gaping holes in the hearts of families, friends, and communities, Dr. Nzelu observed that Nigeria recently lost two renowned curators to cancer in two consecutive months – Olabisi Obafunke Silva (curator of the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Lagos and younger sister of the veteran actress, Joke Silva) who died from breast cancer at the age of 56 years, and Okwuchukwu Emmanuel Enwezor, who died from colon cancer at the age of 55 years.

Dr. Nzelu said Enwezor was ranked by ArtReview as one of the 100 most powerful people in the art world. “He was the first non-European artistic director of the Documenta 11 in Germany and the first African curator in the 120-year history of the Venice Biennale. His last major exhibition, “El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale,” co-curated with Chika Okeke-Agulu, opened on 8th March 2019 at the Haus der Kunst, Munich, before it opened at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art on September 30, 2019.

“Incidentally, Mr Innocent Chukwuma (the former Director of Ford Foundation in West Africa) was the arrowhead of an initiative to honour Enwezor’s historic achievements. However, cancer struck yet again and cut short the illustrious life of Mr Chukwuma who (like Enwezor) died at the age of 55 years. Innocent’s diagnosis of blood cancer was so late that he died just a few hours after the diagnosis, giving no opportunity for any form of intervention.

“A few months before Mr. Chukwuma’s transition, the same blood cancer cut short the life of Chisom Chukwuneke, the beautiful and brilliant 17-year-old girl who made 7 A1s in the 2019 WASSCE.

“While I was penning down this article, yet another piece of sad news filtered in – Ify Onwuemene, the talented Nollywood actress –had succumbed to endometrial cancer, after spending over 10 million naira on treatment, part of which was raised through crowdfunding”.

These highlighted cases, Dr Nzelu points out, are tips of the iceberg of avoidable cancer deaths in Nigeria. Quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Nzelu said every day, Nigeria loses over 200 precious lives to cancer, most of whom are unknown and unsung, but who are as precious as those whose deaths are well-known.

Cancer, he maintains, remains a major cause of geographic, racial, social and gender inequality and injustice. “It is an important barrier to increasing life expectancy in every country of the world. Therefore, Nigeria’s low life expectancy (currently the global seventh lowest) will not improve, unless we tackle cancer.

“According to WHO estimates, in 2019, cancer was the first or second leading cause of death before the age of 70 years in 112 of 183 countries.

“The increasing prominence of cancer as a leading cause of death partly reflects marked decline in mortality rates of cardiovascular diseases, relative to cancer. The WHO data shows that worldwide, there were 19.3 million new cancer cases in 2020 (up from 18.1 million in 2018), with over 120,000 new cases in Nigeria alone. There were 10 million global cancer deaths in 2020, with 70% of the deaths occurring in developing nations like Nigeria.”

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