“We were all children once. And we all share the desire for the well-being of our children, which has always been and will continue to be the most universally cherished aspiration of humankind.”- United Nations.
November is a significant month for children and youths! November 17 is “International Students’ Day” whilst November 20 is “Universal Children’s Day”.
Universal Children’s Day is an opportunity to focus on the rights of the child and the challenges facing today’s children. This date marks the anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child (1959) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
As we mark these dates, we will do well to reflect on the Greek proverb quoted by Prof. Dora Akunyili during her last public Speech, given at the recent National Conference, shortly before she succumbed to cancer. She said: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
What kind of society are we going to leave behind for our children? Is it a society where life is nasty, short and brutish, with people dying from avoidable causes? Or is it one where a long, healthy life is the norm rather than the exception? Would it be a world where no one cares about the other or a world filled with love, compassion and care?
On September 8, 2014, Alicia Keys, who is pregnant with her second child, released a new song. Alicia is an American R&B singer, actress, and co-founder of the Keep a Child Alive Foundation. The song is titled “We are here”, and is a reflection on the kind of world she is bringing her yet unborn baby into. Alicia’s message is that each of us is ‘here for all of us’, and not just for his or herself alone.
This year, the theme for the Universal Children’s Day is: Stop Violence Against Children! Violence could take various forms – physical, economic, sexual as well as psychological; these all have lasting negative effects on the well-being and development of children.
This article is an attempt to reflect on the theme of the Universal Children’s Day through the prism of the focal cause of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP-Nigeria), which is “The BIG WAR against Cancer & its risk factors”, aimed at taking holistic health promotion to the grassroots of Nigeria through the use of Mobile Cancer Centres (MCC).
Children are the most pathetic victims of cancer, which is a major source of physical, economic and psychological violence to the child. For instance;
– The death of a parent from cancer may destroy the future and well-being of the child and youth, and cut short his or her educational pursuit.
– Cancer does occur in children. Indeed, some types of cancer such as retinoblastoma (an eye cancer) could be present at birth.
– Childhood cancer is often fatal in our country, because of the lack of infrastructure.
– Even when it does not lead to death, cancer still has direct and far-reaching adverse impact on the child, who may have to drop out of school due to the disease itself, as well as the financial toll of the ailment on the family.
– The risk factors for many adult cancers are often contacted in childhood. For instance, a girl victim of sexual abuse or child marriage is prone to developing cervical cancer in early adulthood. The major risk factor for bladder cancer in Nigeria is schistosomiasis, which is commonly contracted when children wade in stagnant water. Incidentally, Nigeria is the epicenter of schistosomiasis infestation in the whole world.
Moreover, some of the preventive measures against cancer such as healthy lifestyle factors like exercise, diet, non-smoking, sexual discipline among others, are better adopted during childhood. Furthermore, those health promotional and cancer preventive measures such as regular screening, which come into play later in life, are better taught in youth. As far as health education is concerned it is important to ‘catch them young.’
Similarly, the anticancer vaccine, Gardasil which can prevent cervical cancer and other human papillomavirus (HPV) – related cancers is recommended for boys and girls from nine (9) years of age. In endemic countries like Nigeria, the first dose of Hepatitis B virus vaccination against liver cancer is due to be administered at birth.
It is well known that cancer is a global epidemic; one out of every three persons will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Unfortunately, over 70% of cancer deaths take place in poor countries, due to lack of appropriate infrastructure. For example, the United States has a cancer survival rate of 2 in 3 whilst Nigerian survival rate is only about 1:5! It therefore, behoves us to lay the foundation for better cancer care and prevention for the future generation.
We must note that about 80% of childhood cancer is now curable, given early detection and prompt intervention. This applies to the four most common types of cancer in Nigerian children – Burkitt’s Lymphoma (which usually occurs as jaw cancer), Wilm’s tumor (kidney cancer), Retinoblastoma and leukaemia (blood cancer). However in Nigeria, the cases are picked up late and treatment is expensive; majority of children (80% of world’s children) currently have little or no access to treatment in economically disadvantaged countries like ours. The survival rate of children with cancer in Nigeria is disheartening. For instance, out of every 20 Nigerians with leukaemia, only one survives. Meanwhile, Tata Cancer Centre in India, has a survival rate for leukaemia of about 99%. Here is a medically curable condition robbing us of our children and youth. Alas, Nigeria is a nation where wealth accumulates and men decay.
The pathetic experience of Nigerian children with cancer is illustrated by the sad story of a small girl with retinoblastoma. She presented so late that the only treatment possible was removal of her eye along with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Her poor parents could not afford the cost of treatment. In the process of sourcing for funds to care for the girl, the mother died from a stress-related health crisis, leaving the poor father to cater for the girl and her other siblings alone.
Another is the case of a seven year-old girl whose relatives recently contacted me. She had just been diagnosed with osteosarcoma (a bone cancer), at the University College Hospital, Ibadan. The only form of treatment available locally involved amputation of the limb. The doctors, concerned about the girl’s quality of life, advised the parents to take her abroad, where she could access better treatment without an amputation. Her poor parents are currently in the throes of seeking for financial assistance to enable them save not only the life but also the limb of their daughter.
When they (the parents of this girl) contacted me, I immediately thought of Egypt. With half the Nigerian population, Egypt has a world-class National Cancer Institute, several Comprehensive Cancer Centres as well as mobile cancer units; Nigeria has none of these. In addition, Egypt’s children cancer centre, which is the largest in the whole world, offers free treatment to every child, irrespective of nationality or social class. Moreover, the Egyptian children cancer centre was built and is sustained solely by donations.
I hereby use this medium to appeal to well-meaning Nigerians to join the CECP in the effort to prevent our children and adults from undergoing such agonizing experiences.
The latest report on the cancer statistics in Nigeria by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed an increasing number of deaths from the most common cancer in women (Breast Cancer) and men ((Prostate Cancer). Breast cancer now kills 40 Nigerian women every day (compared to 30 daily in the 2010 report) whilst prostate cancer now kills 26 Nigerian men every day (compared to 14 daily in the 2010 report). This represents about 35 % increase in the number of deaths for breast cancer, and 86 % increase for prostate cancer, within four years. This implies that our children will be faced with an explosive incidence of these cancers if things remain the way they are presently.
We cannot afford to continue to fail our children. According to the United Nations Convention, adopted in 1989, every child, everywhere, has the right to survive, grow and thrive. Truly, our children deserve better; nay, they deserve the best. Denial of optimal healthcare to our children is indeed, a form of violence. Just before his death from throat cancer, the late Archbishop Albert Obiefuna – past President of the Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria, said “a country that does not give priority to the health care of the citizens is not worth the name country”.
Together, we can reverse the present trend of cancer death in our country. Dr. Paul Kleihues, Director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and co-editor of the World Cancer Report 2012 said “We can make a difference by taking action today. We have the opportunity to stem this increase. This report calls on Governments, health practitioners and the general public to take urgent action. Action now can prevent one third of cancers, cure another third, and provide good, palliative care to the remaining third who need it.”
Your support for the BIG WAR will make possible the deployment of Mobile Cancer Centres (MCC) in Nigeria, thereby saving millions of lives from the cancer menace.
It is important to note that a Mobile Cancer Centre is much more than a Mobile Mammogram. An MCC is a clinic on wheels, in which screening, follow-up and treatment (including surgeries), can take place. It includes facilities for mammography, sonology, colonoscopy, colposcopy and cryotherapy, as well as a surgical theatre. It is also equipped with laboratory facilities for screening against certain cancers like that of prostate, colon and bladder as well as the Nine Major Cancer-related killer diseases (Diabetes, Renal Disease, Malaria, Schistosomiasis, Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, Helicobacter Pylori, Human Papillomavirus and Hypertension). Thus the MCC would tackle the double burden of disease – Communicable & Non-Communicable. Each Mobile unit costs ninety-five million naira.
To actualize this goal, the CECP is introducing the global movement of Giving, “the opening day of the giving season”, into Nigeria. This is tagged Global ↑↓GoodTuesdayNg and ↑↓GivingTide.
This international landmark is meant to encourage, inspire and celebrate generosity on a global scale. ↑↓GoodTuesday is a call to action for everyone who wants to give something back.
↑↓GoodTuesday, will be observed for the first time in Nigeria on December 2nd, 2014. This will be followed by an ongoing campaign, known as ↑↓GivingTide, which is a national campaign to motivate the giving of talent, treasure and time towards the BIG WAR against Cancer and its risk factors.
↑↓GivingTuesday/↑↓GivingTide is also a way of expressing gratitude for the gift of life, and for all the achievements and progress recorded in the outgoing year. Everyone is encouraged to join the ↑↓GivingTide. Details are available at www.givingtide.org. Together, we can build a better society!
This article is dedicated to Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, GCOW, SPhi, MFR, CECP’s Lead Advocate (Media), whose birthday coincides with the Universal Children’s Day; and to the late Dr Alexander Uruemu Ibru, whose memorial also coincides with the Universal Children’s Day.
© 2014 Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP- Nigeria)