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Embracing breast cancer care with technology - ITREALMS

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A few days ago, Mr Aro in remembrance of his late wife, Nne, who died over a year ago, after suffering a breast cancer affliction, sent a message to his close friends in effort at joining forces with some non-government organisations (NGOs) in their locality for the forthcoming cancer awareness campaign month.
Embracing breast cancer care with technology - ITREALMS
According to him, when his wife’s cancer started, they initially alleged it was ‘enemy arrow’ and have to go shopping from one Pentecostal church to another, until her business, since she was the bread winner, went down completely. 

Then, his wife’s relatives were alerted who promptly donated fund to go to hospital for a check, only to discover it has reached stage four breast cancer and eventually Nne died despite undergoing surgery at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) in Idi Araba, Lagos State.

A cursory search indicated that cancer is the world-leading cause of death, cancer mortality rates are more than deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria put together. It is the second leading cause of death in developed nations and is among the three most causes of death for adults in developing countries.

What is breast cancer?
A cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts is known as breast cancer. This can occur in women and rarely in men. Symptoms of breast cancer, ITREALMS gathered, include a lump in the breast, bloody discharge from the nipple and changes in the shape or texture of the nipple or breast.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, treatment depends on the stage of cancer at the time of discovery, which may consist of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Also gathered is that over 100,000 cases of breast cancer occur per year in Nigeria, despite that cancer is treatable by the medical professionals.

Cancer mortality rate:
A study published recently on the ‘10-year Mortality Pattern Among Cancer Patients’ in Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos led by Omolara Aminat Fatiregun et al; showed that a total number of 6,592 deaths were recorded over ten years, and 1,133 cases were cancer-related deaths.

This number puts the percentage of cancer-related deaths at 17.2 per cent. While male patients accounted for 54.0 per cent and female patients were 46.0 per cent. Breast cancer, they said, accounted for the highest mortality, followed by prostate cancer. The highest number of deaths were recorded in 2010 at 821, followed by 2011 at 799, 2015 at 780, and the least in 2017 at 513. There is also a significant general increase in odds of mortality with an increase in decades of life.

They submitted that about one-in-five deaths, over the last 10 years, from this tertiary institution, is related to a cancer diagnosis. Even though a yearly decline in the number of cancer deaths was noticed, probably due to increased awareness and governmental intervention, the percentage still remains high.

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer:
Experts have outlined some signs and symptoms of breast cancer to include swelling of all or part of a breast even if no lump is felt; skin dimpling sometimes looking like an orange peel; breast or nipple pain; nipple retraction turning inward; nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking, or thickened; nipple discharge other than breast milk.

Though once any of these signs are noticed it requires a medical diagnosis, medical experts maintained that people may have no symptoms, but may experience on the breast: discomfort, inverted nipple, lumps, or nipple discharge.
Embracing breast cancer care with technology - ITREALMS
B-Health mobile app, a local cancer solution:
In May this year, some five Nigerian basic and clinical scientists reportedly developed a self-assessment software for early breast cancer screening using a mobile application tagged B-Health Mobile Application. This feat, ITREALMS gathered was achieved at a 12-day research for impact workshop which took place between May 1 to 12, 2023.

As a patient support digital tool, B-Health project equally offers HIV and wellness education, as such its available for downloads on Androids from Google Play Store; and was funded by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund in collaboration with Innov8 Hub, in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal-3 which aims at improving the quality of health and well-being of Nigerians. It is also available on Apple store.

The project members include both basic and clinical health Researchers and Lecturers namely Dr Lukman Alli of Department of Medical Biochemistry, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, University of Abuja, who doubles as the Chief Executive Officer of the team; Dr. Aliyu Muhammad, Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Life Sciences, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, served as the Chief Scientific Officer I; while Dr. Ben-Azu Benneth who is the Head of Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, Delta State University, Abraka was the CSO II.

Other members of the team comprised of Dr. Bunonyo Kubugha, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Faculty of Science, Federal University Otuoke, Bayelsa State was the Chief Technical Officer; while the group’s Chief Relations Officer was Dr. Salihu Ismail, Department of Medical Biochemistry, Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences, Federal University, Dutse.

As said by the team, breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women worldwide. The Chief Relations Officer, also noted that, “In 2020 alone, approximately 2.3 million new breast cancer cases were diagnosed and over 685,000 deaths recorded. Unfortunately, this trend would not decline until the right steps are taken.

“Team Health and Wellbeing developed an interactive mobile application called B-Health. This app, available to Android users, has the potential to provide easy and early assessments of the risks of developing breast cancer, which can result in the reduction of breast cancer globally. This innovation is in line with the United Nation’s SDG 3 – Health and Wellbeing.

“Through the interactive feature, B-Health assesses possible signs and symptoms of breast cancer and offers the possibility to forward data collected to the physician, with the consent of the end-user. This innovation makes this application unique,” Ismail said.

For the chief facilitator and designer of the programme, Obichi Obiajunwa, for the fact that the RI programme is an excellent platform to launch and incentivise lectures for value-driven research, stressing that “TETFund’s success in helping lecturers to translate research results into practice. This will not only accelerate the beneficial aspects of our research but also has a major positive impact on our country’s economy. This is an important role for the academia in today’s knowledge-driven economy.”
Embracing breast cancer care with technology - ITREALMS
Osibanjo on indigenous scientists:
The immediate past Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo was quoted recently when he received a delegation of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Health, as saying that for Nigeria to achieve its desired development, there was need for the nation to support indigenous scientists across the country.

Nigerian scientists, he said, should get adequate support in the drive towards national development due to their centrality, especially in the age of technology, emphasising that no country develops without contributions of its scientists.

NIRPD delegation led by its Director-General, Dr. Obi Peter Adigwe, made a short presentation to the Vice President on its projects which focused on three thematic areas: uterine fibroids, prostate issues, men’s health, and sickle cell disorder.

Good news for cancer patients in Nigeria:
One good news for cancer patients in Nigeria is the debut of the financial assistance based on the founding of the Nigeria Cancer Health Fund, obviously described as an innovative way to ensure the affordability of cancer treatments for patients at treatment centers and is a key part of the nation's efforts to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

Presently, cancer care cost in Nigeria is known to be a heavy burden even for those who have health or medical insurance. Some experts said that on the average, a cancer patient in Nigeria most likely needs at least N2.4 million to receive comprehensive care; considering that treatment of cancer is often continuous and given the devaluation of Nigeria since the coming of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Essence of NCHF:
Noteworthy is that the health insurance in Nigeria is not widespread and does not offer comprehensive cancer care coverage. Thus, many cancer patients have to go without necessary treatments or begin their medical treatment but must stop because they cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs associated with their cancer care. 

In 2020, Roche led a private-sector coalition which, with the support of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Nigerian public authorities; created the Nigerian Cancer Health Fund (CHF).

However, the CHF’s goal is to enable standard of care cancer treatment to underprivileged populations regardless of their ability to pay, and to strengthen the national cancer care ecosystem by improving quality of services.

The CHF provides access to funding of up to USD4,865, about N3,748,482.50, for treatments, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy services for people with breast, cervical, and prostate cancers. It is being piloted in designated centers across the six public health institutions involved with one in each geo-political zones of the country.

While it is important to leverage the local solutions including the B-Health Application to drive cost of breast cancer treatment especially, and now with the coming of the Nigerian Cancer Health Fund (CHF), more awareness is needed to populate both indigenous initiatives, across local languages and in line with the SDG 3 and 17 goals respectively.

For instance, SDG 3 regards to "Good Health and Well-being" is one of the 17 SDGs established by the United Nations in 2015. The official wording, nevertheless, is "To ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” whereas the goal 17 stipulated that partnership is the key to achieving the SDGs.

As matter of fact, if the likes of Mr. Aro and his wife Nne were aware of B-Health mobile application and Nigerian Cancer Health Fund, invariably, the wife could have been alive today.

A stitch in time saves nine.

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