Editor's Focus

NHIS Should not exclude Cancer Patients. We are all human beings.

The financial burden of cancer can be utterly devastating to both the patients and their family members. Honestly, the recent refusal of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to cover cancer patients in Nigeria, is a terrible blow to the entire populace and particularly the patients affected. It makes me keep wondering why the NHIS would not function properly.

It’s certainly not comforting to even a healthy person, to live with the knowledge that there’s no insurance to cover costs of cancer treatment in the event he is diagnosed of the disease.

The number of cancer patients in Nigeria has increased in alarming proportions over the years. Amongst others, the exclusion of cancer treatment from the national health insurance scheme, has been identified as a major factor responsible for the increasing incidence and burden of cancers in Nigeria.

The major reason behind this exclusion of cancer treatment from the National Health Insurance Scheme NHIS, is because it’s expensive.

Out-Of-Pocket Medicare is not sustainable.

I consider that reason absolutely irrational. If the government cannot ensure health insurance against cancer, how are the poor masses supposed to cope? Especially considering the fact that Nigeria as a developing country has a high percentage of unemployment and low-income earners.

It’s understandable that the cost of cancer treatment is outrageous, but several countries have successfully established a cancer insurance scheme for their citizens. This has been invaluable in the increment of cancer survival rates and also reduces the financial burden on patients. In America, there are a number of government sponsored insurance programs.

An example is the Medicare which has many parts including the distribution of cancer drugs in outpatient medical offices and clinics. The Affordable Care Act is improving the quality and cost of health care in the United States for people with cancer and those at risk for cancer. In addition, there are several private insurance companies in America. Mutual of Omaha for instance, is a well-known and highly respected insurance company. It offers two forms of insurance policy, including a lump-sum policy and a cancer care treatment policy. Additional coverage options include lost income and travel expenses.

Japan has compulsory national health insurance which covers cancer treatment. Japanese medicine emphasizes early detection based on government-subsidized screening programs. Cancer insurance policies were introduced in Japan in the 1970s when AFLAC of Columbus, Georgia entered the Japanese market. AFLAC currently insures about a fifth of the Japanese population, with low marketing costs resulting from policies distributed through employee benefit programs. It is perhaps more known for its payroll deduction insurance coverage, which pays cash benefits when a policyholder has a covered accident or illness, cancer inclusive. These policies have proved effective in supplementing government-subsidized universal health insurance by providing assistance with out-of-pocket expenses, an often underappreciated aspect of cancer care.

The only way that Nigerians will survive cancer, particularly the indigent, is for the government to implement cancer care under the NHIS. If cancer treatment is accommodated by the scheme, Nigeria will undoubtedly have a survival rate of at least 30-40 percent.

I am not saying that the government should take care of the entire bill, but they should at least take care of the chunk of treatment. The cancer treatment in the countries I mentioned above, was subsidized. If it requires privatization of the NHIS to ensure adequate management, that would not be a bad idea. After all, NEPA was privatized. One-third of these cancers are preventable and additional one-third can be detected and prevented while there is still hope.

Written by Aniekwe Donald, a 400-L clinical student in Nigeria.

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