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Prof. Lydia Aziato (inset) delivering her lecture

Academic calls for insurance coverage for breast cancer

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The first Ghanaian Professor of Nursing, Professor Lydia Aziato, has advocated a comprehensive insurance coverage for breast cancer patients to improve affordability and access to screening and treatment.

Although the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) covers some aspects of the treatment process such as the surgery and chemotherapy, she said that was not always reliable.

Prof. Aziato explained that the cost of laboratory investigations for the process was not covered by the NHIS, while some patients also had to foot the bill for the total treatment due to the limited drugs the scheme provided.

She said some patients were not able to either start or complete the treatment even if the cost was subsidised, and that it had contributed to breast cancer related deaths in the country.

She made the remarks at an inaugural lecture on breast cancer care and pain management in Accra last Thursday.

The lecture, dubbed: “The Intersection of Subjectivism and Patient Centred Nursing for Breast Cancer Care and Pain Management”, discussed some critical findings on breast cancer and pain management.

“I, therefore, advocate financial support for women with breast cancer from both government and non-governmental sources, including individual and corporate bodies, to help in treating the disease,” Prof. Aziato said.

“The health insurance scheme should be expanded to cover all aspects of treatment and payment to health facilities, or supplies should be expedited,” she added.
Globally, over 2.3 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer, with 685,000 related deaths.

In 2020, breast cancer ranked first in both incidence and mortality in Africa, with 16.8 per cent new cases and 12.1 per cent deaths.

In Ghana, it ranked first in incidence and second in mortality, with 18.7 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively.

That, Prof. Aziato said, was an indication that there were breast cancer survivors who required care, support and follow-up.

Breast cancer is said to emanate from uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells, and although the main cause remains unknown, there are predisposing factors such as family history, early menstruation, late menopause, never breastfed, toxin exposure, hormonal therapy, among others.

The signs of the disease include a lump, changes in the size or shape of the breast, nipple or skin, abnormal discharge and pain which is a late sign.

Treatment choices include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal and immunotherapy depending on the stage and type of breast cancer.

Delayed treatment

Prof. Aziato said breast cancer had a high mortality rate in Ghana because women reported late to the hospital.

She said her research findings suggested that some patients sought alternative treatment at prayer camps due to the high cost of treatment of the disease.

The many months spent at such camps, she said, did not cure the cancer, but rather contributed to the spread of the cancer cells.

Some patients, she said, spent several months at the camps and only went to the hospital when the situation became critical.

In most of such cases, Prof. Aziato said, they ended up losing their lives.

She, therefore, encouraged family members to continue to support breast cancer patients and to endeavour to maintain confidentiality so that other victims would feel comfortable to disclose their diagnosis.

She also urged people who stigmatised breast cancer victims to reflect and change their attitude towards such people.

She further advocated the implementation of stigma-reduction interventions to ensure continuity of positive attitudes towards breast cancer patients.

“Let us remember that all women are at risk of developing breast cancer, and although only one per cent of men are at risk, we must all be concerned with issues of breast cancer because of the critical roles of women in maintaining the family and the home,” Prof. Aziato stated.