SINCE being diagnosed with leukemia at the age of four, Ayokunmi Makinde, had made the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Mushin her second home before she lost the battle to survive to one of the deadliest childhood cancers known today.
It is not only strange to hear, but pathetic to know that children, even as young as a month-old, could be afflicted with cancer – the world’s most dreaded disease. Childhood cancers, like all kinds of cancer, have a common disease process: body cells grow out of control, develop other cells and ultimately spread to other organs and tissues.
For Ayokunmi, there was no sign of a developing disease since birth, but few months after her fourth birthday, her parents noticed a swelling under her nose involving her upper jaw. She was immediately taken to a private hospital for treatment. When the swelling lingered and increased in size, her parents were advised to take her to LUTH, where she was diagnosed of leukemia.
“After some series of tests, it was discovered that it is leukemia. The doctors couldn’t even break the news to me, it was on the third appointment we came for that I was told my daughter had cancer. I did not believe them but I couldn’t withdraw her as she was immediately placed on chemotherapy,” Ayo’s mum said.
After two courses of chemotherapy the swelling reduced and one could once again appreciate Ayo’s beauty. She was discharged to continue treatment at home. She honoured her appointment once but failed to show up again due to the biting debts her parents had incurred on her medical expenses. Six months after, she was brought back to LUTH bleeding and very pale. She eventually passed on before she could be transfused.
According to a matron at the Pediatrics ward at the LUTH, an average of four children are admitted daily for cancer cases. A group, Children Living With Cancer Foundation (CLWCF) is reaching out to educate the public on the reality of childhood cancer in Nigeria and reduce the recovery rate of patients, which is very low.
Speaking at a press briefing geared towards raising the bar in the battle against childhood cancer in Lagos, founder and president of CLWCF, Dr. Nneka Nwobbi, said checking the scourge of childhood cancer required collective effort because of the huge amount of money involved in treating each case.
“Childhood cancer is not a death sentence, it is curable though expensive to manage; but there should be enough money to make cancer treatment free for children in this country. If about 10,000 people contribute N1, 000 monthly and with N10 million, it would go a long way to bringing relief to parents because access to drugs is not the problem, but affordability,” she said.
Consultant Pediatrician at LUTH, Dr. Edamisan Olusoji Temiye, underscoring the seriousness of the issue, noted that: “Childhood cancer treatment is very expensive. For example, a complete treatment for kidney cancer (nephroblastoma), which lasts for less than six months and is not as costly as cancer of the blood, will cost parents of an affected child nothing less than N1 million. And we will have to monitor the child up to five years before we can say he is okay. It takes between N7 million and N10 million to cure blood cancer, which lasts two or three years.
“So, it’s not feasible for an average Nigerian family to afford the cure for cancer. That is one of the reasons why our cure rate is very, very low because there’s a lot of treatment abandonment. The parents come and when they see the enormous cost, they just go away. And the next time you see them, they tell you the child died at home.”
Toyin Osoba, Business Development Manager of Manola Pharmaceuticals, makers of oncology drugs used in cancer treatment for children and adults, noted that it is a touching experience seeing children living with cancer struggling to survive. “We are interested in helping patients as our way of giving back by making our drugs available to the foundation for the benefit of the children and more can be done by corporate organizations to support CLWCF.”
She called on individuals to assist government in offering free treatment to children who have cancer, while urging indigenous pharmaceutical companies to manufacture cancer drugs locally.