Consultant haematologist, Dr. Yusuf Adelabu has bemoaned the difficulties facing leukaemia patients in Nigeria, noting that the absence of specialised laboratories for diagnosis and the high cost of drugs for treatment have continued to make the management of the condition a big challenge in Nigeria.
Speaking in a live TVC interview, Adelabu who is also the founder of White Cell Foundation said while leukaemia can be diagnosed in Nigeria by looking for leukemic cells under the microscope.
He, however, noted that microscopic diagnosis cannot be relied on for treatment.
“To proceed for treatment, one has to identify the specific type of leukaemia. There are over 50 different types and sub-types and treatment for them are actually different.
“The current treatment for leukaemia is what we call targeted therapy as we don’t rely on chemotherapy like most of the other cancers because there are drugs developed specifically to target the different types of leukaemia cells.
“That’s why before you can proceed with using those drugs for treatment, you must have a specific diagnosis which requires some specialised tests which we currently don’t have the facilities to do in the country.
Haematologists treating leukaemia like merely on laboratories outside the country and this usually add to delay in diagnosis as it takes two to three weeks before confirmation can be received and this is a lot of time to wait for,” he said.
Adelabu also lamented that treating leukaemia is a very expensive venture.
“Treating leukaemia is actually very expensive. The targeted therapy that I mentioned rely on newer genetically engineered drugs and some drugs prepared specially using some high technology which makes them very expensive.
“Aside from that, the definitive treatment for most types of leukaemia, not all, is the stem cell transplantation which is also very expensive. The cost of the treatment actually runs into millions,” he said.
The haematologist noted that leukaemia is the commonest childhood cancer worldwide and the commonest in Nigeria, but noted that the condition is highly treatable in children.
The survival rate of leukaemia, he said, is also very in children than in adults.
Adelabu also called for more enlightenment and education of Nigerians about the condition.
“Last Friday, September 4, was the World Leukemia Day and the theme for this year is ‘Can you spot leukaemia’. To mark the day, activities were held worldwide to enlighten people about leukaemia. Activities are still been held now because September is a cancer awareness month.
These activities are to enlighten the public about the common symptoms of leukaemia and other blood cancers,” Adelabu said.
He, however, stated that identifying leukaemia from symptoms is very difficult.
“The reason is that the symptoms are generally not specific. The symptoms are fever, fatigue, weight loss, excessive night sweat and repeated infections.
“Those are the five symptoms and as you know these symptoms can develop in many other health conditions.
“However, it is important to say that when someone has two of these three symptoms and present to the hospital, he should be tested.
“And as I said, a simple blood count can help to discover leukaemia early enough. Also, while several other conditions are more common than leukaemia, the condition should be suspected particularly in children when there are recurring infections,” he said.