Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu

Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, Ondo State First Lady

Ondo State First Lady, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu has averred that breast cancer is beatable if the right steps are taken at the right time.

Akeredolu made this revelation while speaking on Wednesday, at the Combined First and Second Quarter Meeting of the National Technical Working Group (TWG) on Cancer Control and Prevention in Nigeria at Rockview Hotel, Wuse II, Abuja, Federal Capital Territory.

She said, “Having survived breast cancer for twenty-four years and still counting, there is no better poster child to show that breast cancer can be beaten if we take the right steps at the right time.

“One of such steps is being breast aware, which I strongly believe is the entry point to surviving breast cancer. Given my experience, I can confidently say breast cancer is not a death sentence and it should kill no woman.”

The programme was organised by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) to disseminate information on the Cancer Access Partnership (CAP) with emphasis on the introduction of new medicines in the expanded product portfolio, discuss strategies and insights on expanding access to paediatric cancer and improving uptake of anti-cancer medicines, disseminate national training materials and data tools for cervical cancer secondary prevention, introduce innovative cancer medicines demonstration study scheduled for implementation at the National Hospital, Abuja, among other objectives.

Akeredolu gave tips on how cancer can be controlled and treated in Nigeria, saying: “You will agree with me that it is both intuitively and scientifically correct to assert that early diagnosis of cancer can significantly improve cancer outcomes and patients survival.

“It will be sensible and cost-effective to utilize our existing health care system to create awareness on the common forms of Cancer.

“Therefore, routine opportunistic cancer education should be conducted for persons seeking non-cancer-related care at any health facility – both primary and secondary health facilities.

“BRECAN partnered with Ondo State Ministry of Health to commence the implementation of this initiative in February 2021 and the initiative is currently been implemented in all the State hospitals in Ondo State.

“We have been doing a lot of campaign to educate women and men alike on how to conduct breast self-examination and this has yielded good results. We will however achieve more gain if clinical breast examination are conducted at primary health facilities.”

The First Lady added that there is at least one primary health care facility in each ward in Ondo State, saying, ‘by ensuring that clinical breast examination services are offered at all the primary health centres, up to 80% of the target population can be reached since 85% of pregnant women in the state receive ANC at health facilities and up to 74% have institutional delivery, indicating high patronage of the health facilities by women of reproductive age.’

In her words: “Using Ondo state as an example; there is at least one primary health care facility in each ward. If we ensure clinical breast examination services are offered at all the primary health centres, we can be sure we will be covering up to 80% of our target population since 85% of pregnant women in the state receive ANC at health facilities and up to 74% have institutional delivery, indicating high patronage of the health facilities by women of reproductive age.

“It is equally important that we work to improve patient navigation at the health systems level. A sizable proportion of patients are lost to follow-up in the cancer care continuum as a result of the complexity and poor functioning of our health system especially as it relates to cancer care.

“We must evaluate our health system critically and re-model it to ensure accessibility, affordability and quality in order to curb loss to follow-up. The Federal and State Ministry of health must take up this responsibility.”

Commenting on the efforts the Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN) has made in combating cancer, Arabirin said BRECAN has, through research, realised that most factors impeding positive cancer outcome are multi-faceted yet integrated.

“In these many years of existence, through research and field experience, we have come to realize that most factors impeding positive cancer outcome (especially breast, cervical and prostate) are multi-faceted yet integrated. It is therefore important to apply a holistic approach to cancer programming.

“A study conducted by BRECAN in collaboration with some researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, USA showed that religious leaders enjoy a high-level influence on breast cancer patients, and they can be a major contributor to delays in presentation.

“At Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria (BRECAN), we have a team of survivors called “Team Survivors Nigeria” in many parts of the country and they have been providing psychosocial support to breast cancer patients. I think this technical working group needs to consider this aspect of care. As we deliberate on improving cancer outcome, we must engage religious leaders to ensure they provide only psychosocial support and referral services rather than make attempts to treat.” The First Lady said.

Mrs. Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu is the Founder of Breast Cancer Association of Nigeria, founded in 1997 after her victorious battle against breast cancer, and twenty-four years afterwards, she has been working to improve breast cancer outcome through awareness creation, advocacy and patient support.

The programme featured, inter alia, plenary discussions, lectures, updates on cancer control efforts, milestones, progress and challenges, update on cancer policies, stories of NGOs in the cancer space.

At the event were: First Lady of Kebbi State, Her Excellency, Dr. Mrs. Zainab Shinkaffi-Bagudu, and Director, Hospital Services, Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), Dr. Adebimpe Adebiyi, mni, distinguished academics, Medical Practitioners and researchers.