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Nigeria Looks to Step Up Action Against Non-Communicable Diseases by 2030

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The UNIATF on NCDs and TB mission team debrief the Minister of Public Health, Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire (middle) and senior staff on key mission findings and recommendations. (Photo: WHO Country Office Nigeria)

Senior representatives from ministries across the Nigerian Government met with over 30 experts in public health, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and tuberculosis from 12 United Nations agencies and international organizations as part of a week-long United Nations InterAgency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Disease (UNIATF) mission last month in Nigeria.

The aim of the mission was to seek ways to reduce the country’s high burden of non-communicable diseases, which includes cancer, and move forward national capacity to meet the country’s commitments to both universal health coverage and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Tuberculosis experts also joined the mission due to the high prevalence of the disease in the country.

Key areas of discussion included increasing capacity to address NCDs through a country level policy framework that would support the coordination of the many national sectors working in health, improving funding for the health sector, and gaining greater support for public health policy to benefit Nigeria’s population of over 200 million.

Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire, Nigeria’s Minister of Health, underlined the government’s commitment to this by reiterating President Muhammadu Buhari’s message, “We cannot achieve the SDGs if we continue to allow TB and NCDs to afflict our people.”

While inaugurating an expert technical working group to oversee the implementation of a six-year, multi-sectoral action plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases, Ehanire said, “The health and economic impact of TB and NCDs is unimaginably high and we must close ranks to stem the tide. We urgently need multi-sectoral action to end the scourge of these diseases in Nigeria. Ending the scourge of TB and NCDs requires commitment from all stakeholders.”

Cases of cancer are rapidly increasing in Nigeria. With over 115 000 Nigerians diagnosed in 2018, the annual figure is expected to double by 2040, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Nigeria’s most common cancers – breast, cervical and prostate – can be effectively diagnosed and treated with the help of radiation medicine.

In the face of the increasing cancer incidence and mortality rates in Nigeria, the Ministry of Health embarked on a long term programme in 2017 to effectively control and manage the disease through the application of nuclear technology. This included refurbishing its eight Government supported radiotherapy centres and procuring advanced LINAC radiotherapy equipment. The IAEA also provided training to increase the number of qualified specialist staff, together with expert advice to strengthen the country’s capacities for more accessible, effective and sustainable cancer services as part of the country’s comprehensive National Cancer Control Programme.

Arsen Juric from the IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy highlighted the contributions the Agency provides to its Member States, “The IAEA continues to help countries expand access to radiation medicine for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer to meet the increasing demands. The coordinated multi-agency advocacy and collaboration highlights the imperative for a whole-of-government and whole of society response in Nigeria,” he said.

Several recommendations were made by the delegation to the Government:

  • Increase domestic and international financing to scale-up NCD responses to alleviate catastrophic costs,
  • Enhance advocacy and awareness efforts,
  • Close the gaps in medical staff skills and the healthcare infrastructure
  • Strengthen multisectoral engagement with civil society, private sector, academia while also building accountability,
  • Develop and enforce legislative, policy and regulatory frameworks critical to respond to NCDs,
  • Strengthen the delivery of NCD services
  • Integrate human rights approaches into NCD programming to include social, legal and structural determinants,
  • Improve data collection and surveillance of NCDs,
  • Ensure access to NCDs services for key populations, such as migrants, refugees, children, prisoners and people with disabilities, with attention to reducing stigma and discrimination.

 

Background to UNIATF

UNIATF was established in 2013 by the then UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and placed under the leadership of the WHO to coordinate the activities of the UN System to support Governments realize commitments to the 2011 Political Declaration on NCDs. One of the eight joint programmes, of which the IAEA is an active member, focuses on the prevention and control of cervical cancer in low and middle income countries.

UNIATF has undertaken more than 20 joint missions to countries around the world to support governments, the UN system and development partners scale-up action on NCDs.

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