'Nigeria needs a platform for raising funds to support cancer patients'
The Executive Director, Project Pink Blue- Health and Psychological Trust Centre (HPTC), Runcie C.W. Chidebe, recently bagged an award from the Union for International Cancer Control, during the World Cancer Summit in Istanbul. In this encounter with Hassan Zaggi, Chidebe discloses the motivation behind his interest in the campaign against cancer, the need for the government to give priority to the fight against the disease and many other issues. Excerpts.
You recently won an award, what was it all about?
I was recognized recently at the World Cancer Summit in Istanbul Turkey. The award is actually young leader award by the Union for International Cancer Control. It is one of the largest cancer fighting organizations in the world with over 900 member organizations across 150 countries representing world major cancer societies, ministries of health, research institutes, treatment centres and patient groups.
It was truly a honour because it was a recognized body that is well known in championing cancer initiatives in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other research institutes in cancer. I was really happy.
What that showed me was that what I and my little team are doing in our little way in our community gained a global recognition.
What is this project Pink Blue all about?
Pink Blue is a community based cancer NGO that is focus on creating awareness, providing free breast and cervical cancer screening and also supporting people that are battling with breast and other forms of cancer.
How did it start?
Project Pink Blue started as my personal NYSC Community Development Service (CDS) project when I was serving as a corps member in Abuja.
I organized the first CDS in Kabusa, a suburb in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). When I organized the first one, it was like I just wanted to have fun, but eventually when I finished it, I realized that there is the need for this kind of project to continue afterward.
I then mobilized my other corps members that we worked together and I told them that we need to see how we can be part of the solution in Nigeria instead of criticising the government. That is how the Project Pink Blue started. I then got it registered and since we completed our NYSC in 2014 this is what we have been doing.
What specifically did you do that gave you the award?
From 2013 when I started the NYSC, I was able to organize about 4 different projects. I went to Kabusa and organized a programme that attracted over 160 women and we provided screening for them. After that we organized another programme that was held in Parade Ground in the Abuja city centre where we got over 300 women. After that one, with the support from a lady from Mexico, but that one was just talk on cancer without screening. When I finished my NYSC, I decided to continue.
The next programme I organized was in Kuje where many women came and we provided cancer screening services for them and also followed up to ensure that those who were diagnosed with cancer can get support. I also organized an event in faraway Anambra state. That one attracted over 400 women even though it was only awareness creation in partnership with some volunteer medical experts who believe in our dream.
The truth is that people are afraid of Cancer. Once a woman hears that she has breast cancer, the next thing that comes to her mind is death. We also realized that most women don’t know much about the disease. They depend on what they hear from their neigbours. Even after the event we organized at Anambra, we also organized another one in Sheraton in the FCT which was massive and many celebrities were also part of it. We also had a walk. It was meant to create awareness and to also provide screening services.
We also organized another event again in one of the markets in Lagos titled Pink October. Many celebrities also attended the event. You realized that the work we have been doing is targeted at women who cannot afford to pay for the screening services in the hospital. We target the rural areas and market women who are battling on how to secure three square meals. Because it is somehow difficult to get them come to the healthcare facility, what we do is to bring them to the healthcare facility and connect to the closest hospital. For example, the one we did in Lagos, we connected the women to the Ikeja Medical Centre.
There are many more other advocacies that we did in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health to let the government understand the need to start making cancer a health care priority considering the number of people that a dying of the disease.
Where are you getting your funding from?
You see, when I started as a corps member, it was absolutely difficult because it was like asking a poor man to help a poor man. When I was serving, I was being paid 19,000 naira and we all know how expensive it is to live in Abuja. It was difficult for me to sustain myself let alone think of carrying out a project.
When I started, nobody was ready to support me because as you know, rural areas don’t have much business value for companies and corporate organizations, but I also realized that it was difficult for them to support me because I was not known and was not relevant.
What I did was not to ask anybody for money. I just go to the people and tell them to assist us do a particular thing. This, they find it easy assisting than for us to tell them to give us money for the thing. I used that strategy at the beginning, but now I have been able to build a relationship with people who can now trust and support us.
Currently we have patients who are battling with Cancer and are seeking for assistance and we keep writing to so many philanthropic organizations and companies for support and be part of what we are doing.
We have many partners. For example, the federal ministry of health has become a very strong technical partner. Maria Stopes has been our key partner in terms of providing the screening. What we just do is to get few volunteers to support them. As it is now, we have over 78 volunteers mostly in Lagos and Abuja. We also have some people who are volunteering for us from outside Nigeria. After this award, we have some pharmaceutical companies that have indicated interest in partnering with us.
Are you thinking of venturing into other areas of health?
You see, venturing into other issues of health is usually a challenge. For example, we have been working when Ebola came up, some people called us and suggest that we dive into Ebola awareness. Yes, it was a good idea, but you know it is good that people should know you for something. For now, we are just focusing on cancer and you know how vast cancer is. Even now we are not focusing on all types of cancer and there is a lot of work to be done in this area let alone go into other areas of health.
Why the focus on breast cancer?
We focus on breast cancer because when you think of the number of people who die of the disease, you will be amazed and this is a disease that is a lifestyle disease. This is a disease we can do just little things that will help us stay away from it. Some of these cancers that we focus on are preventable. For example, cervical cancer is 100 per cent preventable. A lot of people in Nigeria did not know that there is a Human Papiloma Vaccine (HPV) for cervical cancer.
Think of so many influential people in this country whose lives have been abruptly terminated as a result of cancer, most of them breast cancer. It is most painful because this disease terminates their lives at their prime, when they are most needed in the country. I can’t mention names because there are many of them. We focus on breast cancer because the incidence rate is higher compared to other forms of cancer.
Secondly, cervical cancer is also preventable, but it is killing many people. Most recently, we are already diving into prostate cancer and cancer of the lungs.
What are the challenges you have encountered so far?
Sincerely Nigerians are amazing people when it comes to calling them for help. I know how it has being in terms of raising funds.
What I can say that is more challenging for is our inability to raise funds. For example, a lady who is 34 years came here few weeks ago, her breast was cut off due to cancer, but surprisingly, she has not gotten money to for her chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is very important once you do mastectomy because no one knows if the malignant cell has spread to other areas. It is really difficult because in Nigeria we don’t have a systematized form of fund raising. We depend on foreign donors. We don’t have our domestic platform for raising funds. For example, in abroad, people skip meals just to assist others but here we don’t have that culture. You only see people coming to support when the person is dying.
When you walk out and ask people to support, sometimes they think you are just asking them money for your personal use.
Most times we tell people not to give the money to Project Pink Blue, but they should give the money directly to the patient who needs the money. If the money goes to the patient, our duty will only be to monitor the patient to ensure that the money is used for the purpose it was meant for.
There is a lot of work to be done in the fight against the disease.
I wish the government can pay more attention on cancer screening and treatment. They should establish more radiotherapy centres and make it a priority. So many rich men and politicians can travel abroad for treatment, but how many poor Nigerians can travel for treatment outside the country.
The way forward
The way forward is for the government to make cancer a healthcare priority. What I mean is that the government should increase the funding of cancer activities in the country. If possible, they government should establish a cancer control agency in the country. They should create more awareness on the causes and all issues surrounding the disease.
On the other hand, women should reduce the intake of alcohol. Most Nigerians don’t go to the hospital unless they are carried which another worrisome issue.
It is however an inspirational story to many young people to know that at the age of 29 I founded a non- profit organization and this is how far we have been able to go. I call on young men to think of what is happening in the country and see what they can do to move the country forward.
Source: Authority Newspaper
For more information about Project Pink Blue, visit: www.projectpinkblue.org