Arguably Nigeria’s most flamboyant First Lady, Maryam Babangida’s death in Los Angeles, United States, in December 2009, jolted many; though her husband had lost power as the country’s leader some sixteen years earlier. During her time at the presidential villa in Lagos and Abuja, she was credited with bringing glamour to the First Lady’s office with her famed Better Life for Rural Women programme, aimed at alleviating the plight of women on the wrong end of the ladder in the society.
Dr. Babangida was believed to have succumbed to the trauma of ovarian cancer after years of battling the wicked maladie.
Asides the former First Lady, few notable Nigerian women have fallen victims to various cancerous diseases. Renowned for her daring exploits as Director-General of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Dora Akunyili painfully struggled with cancer which withered her once-glowing broad physique and subdued her ever charming smile. In March 2014, the highly revered Professor of Pharmacology and Nigeria’s former Minister of Information could barely be recognized by many when she appeared as delegate to the National Conference, held in Abuja. That, incidentally, was Dora’s last public outing as she gave up the ghost few weeks after in far away India.
Few weeks ago, a member of the House of Representatives from Kwara State, Funke Akindoyin, was pronounced dead. Sources close to the federal legislator revealed that she had suffered, protractedly, from an undisclosed form of cancer. Similarly, Clara, wife of the then Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, reportedly died from complications arising from breast cancer treatment in December, 2010, few days to her daughter’s wedding.
Emotionally hurting as it is, to have lost these delectable mothers to a single course, one must be mindful that many others may, still, be claimed by the disease as we move on while searching for a lasting antidote.
Available statistics show that breast cancer is the commonest cancer among women worldwide with 1.38million new cases each year. According to a report by the American Cancer Society, “more than 3.5million US women with a history of breast cancer are alive on January 1, 2016.” In a 2014 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) put the number of deaths from breast cancer in Nigeria at 13,264 annually, making it the highest among deaths from cancers. It is, of course, more worrying that Africa seems to be particularly suffering from what looks like a ravaging flux of cancer diseases, especially among women, due, largely, to the developing status of many of her countries. This represents an unfavourable commentary to an alarming scenario.
It is in the light of the recognition of how deadly breast cancer has become and the need to wage an enlightened war against it that the WHO earmarked every October as ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month.’ This underlines the critical place of public education and continuous advocacy in direct relation to early detection as surest way of combating this brutal agent of death.
Decades of works by researchers have yielded little success as cancer generally remains untreatable (by orthodox medicine) with available drugs only capable of containing its spread. Nonetheless, it is worthy of note that, there are few things which would go some mileage in mitigating the potency of cancer scourge worldwide.
To begin with, stigmatization has been identified as occupying the heart of the crisis since many societies not only attach unfounded mystical beliefs to cancer, but also see it as death sentence on sufferers. Using her social media platforms, America’s Tennis Grand Slam serial winner, Serena Williams recently released a cover of The Divinyls’ hit song, I Touch Myself, to further attract attention to the need for joint efforts against cancer, globally. Talking of the motivation behind her coming out nude in the musical video, Serena explained thus, “Yes, this put me out of my comfort zone, but I wanted to do it because it’s an issue that affects all women of all colors, all around the world.”
It is heartwarming that Serena is not alone in this campaign. Back in Nigeria, wife of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, Betty, is a leading campaigner against breast cancer in Nigeria. Her story is specifically appealing since she survived the trauma of breast cancer two decades ago. Her message is simple: periodic test leads to early detection. In driving her laudable initiative, Mrs. Akeredolu founded the Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN), which provides help in terms of publicity through series of programmes and financial boost to patients. She sure needs the support of few more well-to-do individuals and corporate establishments to further project BRECAN to communities far beyond the Sunshine State.
Another germane area that should receive utmost attention towards eradicating Breast cancer globally is conscious improvement of available health facilities. This is of keen concern if one considers the poor – sometimes non-existing – health facilities in developing countries many of which domicile in Africa. Governments must also endeavor to decentralize access to breast cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and mastectomy which are, at the moment, only being prioritized at tertiary health institutions. The troubled Nigerian health system is a case study here.
Speaking at a gathering of African First Ladies on the sidelines of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, in New York, Rwandan President, Paul Kegame, who doubles as Chair of African Union (AU), recommended specific gender-sensitive health policies, such as increase in number of female medical doctors, to counter the current neglect associated with women-prone diseases like breast cancer.
In a rare gesture – which may henceforth become a yearly ritual -, the Islamabad residence of Dr. Arif Alvi, president of Pakistan, was lit in pink colour at a ceremony marking breast cancer awareness month, early October. It is believed that in a country with a record 90,000 new cases of breast cancer patients every year, Pakistan – where more than 10.2million women are at high risk of contracting the disease – has blazed the trail for others to follow.
As we say byes to October, it is crucial to reiterate that the possibility of a future where breast cancer no longer cut short women’s lives seems only a wish in the immediate. Yet, brighter signs are on the horizon that, if the current synergy by key players is sustained, the days of savagery of this plaque would, one day, be condemned to a permanent terminus in the history of man.
–Ajala, a freelance journalist, wrote from Abuja
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