By Ekemini Yemi-Ladejobi
Often times, you hear critics saying that the Office of the First Lady is unconstitutional; that the lady is just the wife of the Head of State or Government and so, her role should only be supportive and complimentary.
In spite of such pessimistic comments, observers note that the First Ladies, particularly those in Nigeria, have used their positions to promote the growth of the society via various pet projects and programmes designed for the less-privileged, especially women and children.
The input of the First Ladies to societal growth was further demonstrated when the Forum of the African First Ladies against Breast and Cervical Cancer, initiated by a Nigerian, Princess Nikky Onyeri, met recently in Windhoek, Namibia.
The Forum, which was established in 2007 with 15 African First Ladies as members, has created appreciable awareness on breast and cervical cancer and its management in Africa.
The First Ladies were in Windhoek for the 8th Stop Breast, Cervical and Prostate Cancer Conference in Africa to develop strategic action plans for the prevention and management of cancer in Africa and the mobilisation of the people for the venture.
A report of the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that cancer killed 7.6 million persons in 2008 worldwide, adding that cancer-induced deaths could reach 13 million by 2030.
It said that cancer also accounted for 13 per cent of all deaths globally, while 70 per cent of the cancer-related deaths occurred in middle and low-income countries.
In Nigeria, not less than 10,000 cancer-induced deaths are recorded every year, while 250,000 new cancer cases are recorded annually.
However, a major source of concern to health experts is the fact that only 17 per cent of African countries purportedly have sufficiently funded cancer-control programmes, while less than half of all countries in the world have functional cancer-management plans.
Dr Jean Dangou, WHO Regional Advisor for cancer prevention and control, said at the Windhoek conference that since the 2008 estimate, breast cancer had increased by more than 20 per cent in Africa.
He projected that by 2030, there would be 26.4 million cases of cancer worldwide, adding that there would be 16.4 million deaths and 75 million people living with cancer.
“The incidence is almost 25 per cent higher in men than in women, the rate of 205 per 100,000 people and 165 per 100,000 people respectively,’’ he said.
“There is a less regional variability for mortality than for incidence; the rate being 15 per cent higher in more developed countries than in less developed regions in men and eight per cent higher in women,’’ he added.
Dangou explained that the devolution worldwide showed that in developing countries going through rapid and societal economic changes, there was a rising burden of cancers associated with reproductive and risk factors.
Besides, the WHO official said that there were also huge inequalities between poor countries and rich countries.
“The incidence rates are highest in more developed regions but mortality is relatively higher in less developed countries.
“When we talk about women cancer epidemiology in Africa, cervical cancer and breast cancer are the commonest women’s cancers,’’ he said. Dangou, however, noted a slight variation in women’s cancer types with regard to the sub-regions of Africa.
He stressed that breast cancer was the predominant women’s cancer in Northern and Western Africa, while cervical cancer was the foremost cancer type in Southern Africa and Eastern Africa.
All the same, Nigeria’s First Lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan, one of the speakers at the confab, said that her office, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health, had been administering a National Cancer Control Programme.
“Our advocacy campaigns through my NGO, the A.Aruera Reachout Foundation, have enabled us to achieve some significant milestones in efforts to increase public awareness about cancer.
“As the Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control and Prevention in Nigeria, I have not relented in efforts to empower and educate our women on the need to have regular cancer screening.
“We have also helped to promote the strategic and legal framework for implementing the National Cervical Cancer Control Policy.
“The policy outlines the roadmap for Nigeria on how to control the challenge of cancer in the next few years,’’ she added.
Jonathan stressed that the policy stated that girls between the ages of nine and 15 years ought to be immunised against cervical cancer with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccine.