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Did cancer advocate get facts correct about disease’s burden in Nigeria?

Many women in Nigeria still die from cervical cancer because they are not aware there is a vaccine, according to the head of an international group focused on cancer.

But providing the human papillomavirus vaccine without adequately educating communities would also lead to failure, Dr Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu cautioned

She is a director of the Union for International Cancer Control, a non-governmental organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland, that claims over 1,100 members in 170 countries. 

Speaking on World Polio Day in October 2020, Shinkafi-Bagudu made two other claims about cervical cancer in Nigeria. We took a closer look at them.

We have reached out to Shinkafi-Bagudu, who is also the first lady of Kebbi state in northwestern Nigeria, to check if she was accurately quoted in media reports and for the source of her data. At time of writing we had not received a response.

Claim: 26 people die daily of cervical cancer in Nigeria.

Cervical cancer is caused by sexually acquired infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). The World Health Organization, or WHO, says most people are infected with HPV shortly after the onset of sexual activity.

How many Nigerian women die from cervical cancer daily? When Africa Check looked at a similar claim in October 2019, we found that 10,403 die from the disease every year. This translates to at least 28 deaths every day.

To calculate this, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a unit of the WHO, told Africa Check it had used models derived from national incidence estimates and the comparison of cancer registry data from neighbouring countries. This is because it did not have enough data on Nigeria. We rate this claim mostly correct.

Claim: Nigeria has the highest death rate from cancer in Africa.

The Global Cancer Atlas contains the best national estimates on cancer death rates, experts have previously told Africa Check. The atlas is compiled by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The latest was published in 2018.

For “both sexes combined” Zimbabwe has the highest cancer death rate, Jacques Ferlay, a spokesperson for the IARC, told Africa Check.

The atlas gives this as 146.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

Of countries in sub-Saharan Africa  reliable national mortality statistics only exist for South Africa . The IARC data is therefore based on estimates, Ferlay said.

While it doesn’t have the region’s highest death rate, Nigeria “had the highest number of estimated deaths from cancer in Africa in 2018 because of its huge population”, he said. This claim is therefore incorrect. – Motunrayo Joel