It’s still Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer awareness NGOs across the country are working extra hard to spread the word about the cancer epidemic as it affects Nigeria. Not only are they spreading the word, numerous activities geared towards early detection and prevention are being carried out across the different parts. We caught up with one of the leading NGOs and a member of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), CancerAware Nigeria.
Tolulope Falowo is the founder and Executive Director of CancerAware Nigeria. She is responsible for the vision, strategy and oversight of the activities of the organisation. She is a social entrepreneur and cancer control advocate with over 8 years of combined experience managing people and projects, doing development work and working for non-profits.
In this interview with YNaija’s Impact365, she enlightens us about cancer in Nigeria, the influence of social media in combating the plague and upcoming campaigns by her NGO this 2017:
Can you please tell us more about CancerAware Nigeria?
CancerAware Nigeria is a cancer intervention non-profit organisation with a focus on the prevention and early detection of cancer. Our mission is simple, yet bold – to drastically reduce the rising cancer incidence in Nigeria, especially among women, through education, advocacy and patient support. We focus primarily on breast and cervical cancer as they have the highest incidence among women in Nigeria.
CA Nigeria has a heavy social media presence. How effective is social media in your cancer awareness campaigns?
Social media is changing the way in which non-profits communicate and operate. At CancerAware, social media enables us to tell the story of our cause more effectively and helps us connect better with our audience. It is a powerful tool of engagement for us. Our audience connect with us in real time, give us feedback, get educated about cancer and they also share this information with their contacts on social media. This is helping us achieve our mission quicker.
But how about Nigerians who do not have access to social media, how do you reach out to them?
This year, we will be focusing a lot more on rural areas. We will take our awareness and screening campaigns to these communities offering free breast and cervical cancer screening. We will also educate members of the selected communities on cancer prevention and early detection.
How much impact can you say your campaigns have made in the past year, as regards turnout at screenings etc?
We had several campaigns and events throughout 2016 including our #WomenEverywhere and #EveryMonthIsPink breast cancer campaigns. Hundreds of women were given free breast cancer screening and taught how to perform breast self examinations. We also provided cancer education to thousands of Nigerians. In addition to this, we visited many organisations and corporate bodies to educate their staff on cancer prevention and early detection.
What are the common myths about cancer that you’ve heard of from Nigerians?
The reality is that majority of Nigerians do not know a lot about cancer, its risk factors and treatment options. One common myth we get is that cancer is a death sentence. This is very untrue. Some cancers can be prevented and many cancers can be effectively cured especially if detected early. More and more people are surviving cancer today due in part to early detection and advancement in treatment techniques.
How does your NGO get funded? Do you receive any form of support from the government?
Funding is a major challenge for non profits. At CancerAware, our work is made possible solely through donations. We receive no Government funding. The reality is that we would have greater impact – reach more people with our screening and awareness programmes and also help more women who have been affected by breast and cervical cancer if we are better funded.
Do we have the facilities required to care for cancer patients in Nigeria?
Unfortunately not. We are a country of almost 200 million people and there are limited cancer treatment centres and facilities. As at today, only 1 radiotherapy machine is functional in the whole country – the one at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). Also, the cost of cancer treatment is very high. Many Nigerians diagnosed with cancer cannot afford treatment and majority pay out of pocket. Something urgent must be done about this.
What projects do you have planned for 2017?
We have a lot of activities planned for 2017. We have already kicked off the year with our cervical cancer campaign. January is the global cervical cancer awareness month and we recently launched our #WhatIsHPV campaign. HPV is the major risk factor for cervical cancer in women. In the course of our work, we have discovered that majority of Nigerians do not know this. If you don’t know what causes a disease, how would you be able to prevent or identify it? HPV is the most common STI and most sexually active individuals – male and female will get it at one point in their lives without knowing. In most cases, the body’s immune system usually clears it. However, in some cases, some types of HPV can go on to cause cervical cancer in women.
Therefore, our #WhatIsHPV cervical cancer campaign aims to educate men and women about this. It is also a call to action for women to get screened. Watch the full campaign:
If you would like to get educated on cancer prevention and early detection, then sign up for their
newsletter at canceraware.org.ng/newsletter