*I wrote this for Artisan's Monthly, a new magazine in Lagos, but it was rejected by the editor, a rather hard, but very pretty young lady, on the grounds that it was too health oriented.
Cancer is a class of diseases in which a group of cells display uncontrolled growth, invasion that intrudes upon and destroys adjacent tissues, and sometimes metastasis, or spreading to other locations in the body via lymph or blood. These three malignant properties of cancers differentiate them from benign tumours, which do not invade or metastasise.
Researchers divide the causes of cancer into two groups: those with an environmental cause and those with a hereditary genetic cause.
It must be noted though, that cancer is primarily an environmental disease, though genetics influence the risk of some cancers. Common environmental factors leading to cancer include: tobacco, diet and obesity, infections, radiation, lack of physical activity, and environmental pollutants.
Incidents of cancer are on the rise in Nigeria, some studies estimating that one in two Nigerian males will be at risk of contracting cancer at some point in his life, and this tells us just how careful we have to be. You see, as we pointed out earlier, cancer is primarily an environmental disease with 90-95% of cases attributed to environmental factors. The common environmental factors that contribute to cancer death include: tobacco (25-30%), diet and obesity (30-35%), infections (15-20%), radiation (both ionizing and non ionizing, up to 10%), stress, lack of physical activity, and environmental pollutants.
Nigeria, despite repeated warnings from the Federal Ministry of Health, companies that produce cigarettes are increasing production in the country, and as a result, more Nigerians are taking up smoking. The problem here is a lack of the necessary political will to make life a bit more uncomfortable for such companies as has been done in Europe and the United States.
Again, the average Nigerian leads a sedentary lifestyle. Take the Lagosian as an example, most of us wake up at unholy hours of the morning in order to sit in traffic for countless hours per day, get to the office, do more sitting, then again sit in countless hours of traffic on our return journey home. In between the physical exertions, we do not even think of exercise.
Then there is environmental pollution, which dovetails nicely into another scourge that we have in this part of the world, malaria.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans caused by Plasmodium. It is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions. The disease results from the multiplication of the malaria parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases progressing to coma, and death. Malaria is commonly associated with poverty, and can indeed be a cause of poverty and a major hindrance to economic development.
What would be a shock however is that incidents of malaria are also on the rise, especially in our urban areas. Also shocking is that deaths from malaria are also quite high compared to the population.
But is it something to be shocked about? Or better still, is it something to be surprised at?
We all know the drill, malaria is caused by a tiny insect called the mosquito which feeds on human blood and in the process transmits the malaria parasite to the unfortunate victim. We all know that mosquitoes are endemic in tropical regions, and Nigeria, especially the coastal regions of the country, are wham bam slam in such regions. However, what many of us do not seem to understand is that we breed them.
A drive through Lagos is an eye opener to the fact that despite the efforts of the Lagos State Waste Management Authority, the environment here is frankly quite unhealthy. Our environment is not cleaned properly, and we have all sorts of pollutants given free rein, a very good example would be the jalopies that belch exhaust fumes along our roads.
Nigeria has on paper at least, an excellent health code. But as is the case with the cigarette companies, our health code is not enforced. In September of last year, the National Agency for Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC) had to go on record in warning cocoa farmers against the use of banned pesticides on their crops. This followed a study by the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) had listed 24 banned agrochemicals that were still being used in cocoa farms in Nigeria. According to a recent publication by CRIN, all chemicals with endosulfan as their active ingredient are banned for use on all agriculture undertakings. Up until today, there has been no follow up to that warning, and no farmer has been charged or fined.
Two thousand years ago, the Romans realised that there was a correlation between the number of mosquitoes that they had in their region, and the marshy areas, or areas that had a lot of still waters. So accordingly, they tried as much as they could to drain such places, and generally keep their environment healthy. Why can we not, in the 21st century, do the same?