Turai Leads A War

A non-governmental organisation fronted by Hajia Turai Yar’Adua, wife of President Umaru Yar’Adua, is set to establish a N6 billion cancer diagnosis, treatment and research centre in Abuja.

By Oluokun Ayorinde /Abuja

Just as for other diseases and infections, Nigeria lacks accurate statistics on the rate of cancer incidence. While the World Health Organisation says there are about 100,000 new cancer cases in the country each year, some health experts reckon the figure could be around 500,000. In 2005, 89,000 Nigerian women were thought to have died of breast cancer. 

About 12,500 also died of cervical cancer during the same period. Cancer manifests through malignancies in the prostate glands, liver, bones, brain, breast and cervix as well as the lymph in children. Also of significance is the fact that the disease, unlike others, does not discriminate in terms of gender, age as well as social or economic class. Prominent Nigerians who recently died of cancer included broadcaster Yinka Craig, Sonny Okosuns and Mrs. Alaere Alaibe, wife of Mr. Timi Alaibe, immediate past Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission.

In response to the cancer scourge, the Federal Government set up a Consultative Committee on National Cancer Control to formulate policy guidelines on the prevention and management of cancer in the country. There have also been bodies like the Nigerian Cancer Society, the Society of Oncology and Cancer Research in Nigeria, which are engaged in research and enlightenment on the disease. 

But facilities and the cost of treatment have been beyond the reach of many. Most times, cancer patients are advised to seek treatment in foreign hospitals at costs running into thousands of dollars. Thus, many who could not afford the cost have always returned home to agonising deaths, while the disease may have spread beyond redemption for others before they are able to put together the required financial resources to travel abroad for treatment.

But succour may be on the way if the plans by Hajia Turai Yar’Adua, wife of President Umaru Yar’Adua, to establish an international cancer centre in Abuja come to fruition. 

Senator Adamu Aliero, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, who is also the Chairman of the Planning Committee for the establishment of an International Cancer Centre in Abuja, ICCA, told journalists in Abuja last week. “Tonight, cancer marches resolutely towards more than one million Nigerians homes, littering its pathway with the bodies of the young, the old through the process of a painful death. It is this concern that our First Lady, Hajia Turai Yar’Adua has been able to translate into concrete action by spearheading the establishment of ICCA. The centre which will be the first of its kind in Nigeria and, indeed, West Africa, has been conceptualised to signify not just medical excellence, but hope for Nigerians,” Aliero said.

According to him, the project is aimed at providing quality access to the less privileged for early diagnosis, treatment and care for people suffering from cancer. The former Kebbi State governor, who noted that most hospitals and medicare centres in the country lack diagnostic capacity to detect and treat cancer infections early enough, said ICCA, which will be run by a non-governmental organisation, will give Nigerians opportunity of accessing advanced treatment for the terminal illness at the international arena. 

He explained that the project, which is expected to be completed within 10 months, will cost about N6 billion and will be professionally managed and serve as a centre of medical excellence that would engage experts in various aspects of cancer to meet the needs of patients. The minister called on Nigerians to contribute funds towards the actualisation of the project. A fundraiser is scheduled for Abuja next month. Aliero said government will not dole out money for the cancer centre. 

To ensure that the project did not end up like similar projects after the exit of Turai as the first lady, Aliero said a board of trustees will be set up to manage the centre. The only governmental support for the project, he explained, will be the allocation of a site for the construction of the centre along the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Road in Abuja. Hajia Yar’Adua signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, with M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre, a leading cancer treatment and research centre in the United States. The President’s wife asked the centre and other U.S.-based Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs, to collaborate with her pet project, Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation, WAYEF, in its bid to fight cancer in Nigeria.
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