Nigeria seeks EU help to counter cancer outbreak in polluted delta

Nsima Ekere [L] and Usani U.Usani. [Georgi Gotev]

Officials from the Federal Republic of Nigeria arrived in Brussels on Monday (26 June) to seek EU help with establishing cancer screening centres in the Niger Delta, a hugely polluted area where a large proportion of the population suffers from cancer.

The densely populated Niger Delta is home to more than 45 million people, packed in a territory just twice the size of Belgium. The oil-rich area produces a great proportion of Nigeria’s wealth – with some two million barrels (320,000 m3) extracted daily, it is the biggest one in West Africa. But the carelessness of the oil industry resulting in huge oil spills has created an ecological disaster of rare proportions.

People in the affected areas have reported health issues including breathing problems and skin lesions, but also many cases of cancer resulting from oil pollution, be it from the air, water or agricultural products.

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDCC) and the new Nigerian government have recently decided to take concrete action. The Head of NDDC, a federal minister and a group of experts arrived in Brussels to share for the first time their aspirations for tackling the cancer outbreak.

Usani Uguru Usani, Federal Minister of Niger Delta affairs, told EURACTIV that the “enormity of the menace” called for immediate action and that the capacities of the government and the Niger Delta Development Commission were inadequate. He explained they were on a quest to explore how they could receive aid to improve the capacity for diagnostic, treatment and research.

Nsima Ekere, Managing Director and CEO of the Niger Delta Development Commission, said there were pockets of health centres in the country but only one of them had a functioning radiotherapy machine, while there were none in the entire Niger Delta region.

He said the ambition was to establish a diagnostic centre in the Niger Delta, which should help with early detection of cancer and facilitate treatment. Such a centre could be established in an existing health institution, possibly in the university hospital, where there would be enough backup staff.

Another option is to make the cancer diagnosis centre run on a for-profit basis, which would allow the facilities installed to be well maintained over time and generate income for paying the required professional staff.

Asked to describe the functioning of the health system in Nigeria, Ekere explained the country had enough trained doctors and other personnel but most were working abroad. He said the main issue was the lack of medical equipment, which was going to be their priority during the visit to Brussels.

Asked if similar requests have been previously made, possibly through other channels, Ekere replied that this was the first such contact.

The delegation first met with Louis Michel, former Belgian foreign minister and former European commissioner for development.

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