How Okapi Children Cancer Foundation is instilling hope in Abuja residents

Michael Dibie

Cancer remains one of the dreaded diseases as well as major cause of death for many children especially in low income country like Nigeria. Each year, according to World Health Organization an estimated children and adolescent ages 0-19 develop cancer, It is stated that 400,000 children around the world develop cancer each year. Rate of surviving from cancer depend on whether such a child live in developed or undeveloped countries. In developed countries where comprehensive facilities are available, eighty percent become survivor while in low income countries only thirty percent are cured. Common cancers among children are leukaemia, brain cancer and lymphomas etc

In commemoration of the International Childhood Cancer Awareness Day held on February 15th every year,  Okapi Children Cancer Foundation (OCCF) held the maiden edition of community sensitization exercise with the theme: “equal access to care”.

Okapi Children Cancer Foundation Medical team at an outreach

The medical care programme which held at the Chief’s Palace, Gwarinpa Village, Abuja offered complimentary health screenings to over 200 community members and was supported by Silver Cross Hospital and Trust Charitos Hospital, Abuja.

Head of Management, OCCF, Dr Ozi Okonokhua stated that Childhood cancer is emerging as a significant concern, yet it receives minimal attention from the media, government, and the public.

To address this issue, Okonokhua said OCCF organized the community awareness campaign aimed at informing the public about childhood cancer, with the goal of raising awareness and reducing instances of delayed diagnosis.

“We have what we call charity shop. In that shop, when people come and they give us donations, we reward them with items in the shops. So it’s actually people that help us to raise funds. The funds we use to help these children comes from rewards from T-shirts that people buy from us. So it’s actually from the general public. That is where we get the funds, we appeal to friends and love ones and they support us,’ he explained.

 According to him, globally, February 15 is set aside to mark the International Cancer Day and the foundation being the leading foundation in Nigeria that focusses on childhood cancer decided to go to a community in Abuja to raise an awareness about childhood cancer in Nigeria.

“We are very aware that a lot of people in the urban centers may have heard of childhood cancer but those in rural settings do not know or may not have heard about childhood cancer. As a matter of fact, when I was speaking with the village head, he was surprised that children can have cancer but we know globally about 400, 000 children suffer from cancer every year and in Nigeria specifically the surviving rate is less than 20 percent,” he added.

He noted  that for every 10 children that comes down to cancer, only two survive in Nigeria but in advanced counties, eight out of 10 do survive.

“What are the challenges that prevents children from surviving cancer in Nigeria? We have realized that apart from the fact that cost of treating cancer is high, late presentation is also a major issue and this late presentation is occasioned by the fact that most parents are not even aware that the children have cancer because they do not notice the symptoms on time,” he said.

A medical practitioner with the Federal Medical Center, Jabi, Ifeoma Ezeukwu warned that cancer is real and can affect anybody at any time. She added that parents should always be mindful of changes in their children and take them to hospital when they noticed such symptoms.

“It can occur in blood, leading to shortage of blood, also pains on the legs or a child losing weight. It can also be swollen parts of the body. Cancer in children can be cured when noticed on time and treated,” she said.

According to her, the aim of medical practitioners is to ensure that all children with cancer in Nigeria are treated on time and get cured.

One of the traditional leaders in the community, Bayaro Yafudu says he is very happy to have received the health screening test from the foundation,

“I pray to Almighty God to provide more for them and that God will provide them with more funds for the drugs and the facilities they have given us”

It would be recalled that in 2020, almost 125,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in Nigeria and almost 79,000 died from the disease.

In 2023, the foundation in a bid to create awareness on early cancer detection on children in Nigeria held a 6km charity walk to support children fighting cancer. The walk which was held Jabi, Abuja was tagged- Steps to survival for children fighting cancer.

Walk for cancer campaign by Okapi Children cancer Foundation

According to the founder of the foundation, Kemi Adekoya the major problem with childhood cancer is lack of awareness.

Dr Ozi Okonokhua said the walk was to create awareness on cancer in children and educate people that cancer is treatable.

Shittu Adewunmi, a 13-year-old boy said he had cancer when he was six years old and had to stop school for four years before going for treatment. He was very sad when he was told he had cancer but is now well and happy with himself because he is no longer sick.

“My legs were itching me and I wouldn’t want anyone to come close to me. I didn’t understand what the doctor meant when he told me I had cancer because I was pretty younger then”

The mother said it was a struggle taking care of him until she met the Foundation which helped with the child’s medication and she is grateful that the boy is better and stronger.

Another child cancer survivor at the event, Tobi Hope encouraged other children to get tested on time and not lose hope adding that there is hope for cancer patients. She said she was glad and delighted to have met the Foundation and get an assistance from them.

“When our money finished, our doctor had to introduce us to the Okapi Children Cancer Foundation. They supported us with all they have and God used them to make me alive today,” she said.

Okonokhua reiterated that some parents in Nigeria live in denial and don’t even want to admit their children have cancer but rather watch the disease  growing until it gets to a point they can no longer help themselves and then they take the child to the hospital and most times at the late stages when it has become difficult for the doctors to manage.

“Access to care is a big issue and, in our foundation, we know that the barriers to access are many, besides distance there is also the availability of care. Cancer management in Nigeria is a big issue, only very few centers can manage it, so there is barriers occasioned by distance, there is also a barrier occasioned by funding,” he added.

Okapi Childhood Cancer Foundation as a non-governmental organization, helps to fight cancer in children between ages 0-8 years. The foundation currently works with the National Hospital, the Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada and the Federal Medical center, Jabi all in Abuja as part of the centers where they provide care for children through funding.

Africa Change Stories platform is established to tell African stories which are empowering and are at variant to stereotypical views of wars, famine, diseases. At African Change Stories, we believe narrative and angle matters. So we responsibly tell stories ethically. The platform therefore pushes forward great and energizing stories which will propel its people to consciously strive to do more. You have a story? Info@africanchangestories.org

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top