Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 February 2019:
Yesterday, president Julius Maada Bio joined hundreds of people at an event organised by the Office of the First Lady to commemorate World Cancer Day, at the Bintumani International Conference Centre in Aberdeen, Freetown.
In his keynote address, President Bio said that the event’s theme: “I am and I will”, is a statement that emphasises personal responsibility and personal empowerment; and is about inspiring individuals to action.
He urged everyone in the country to take personal responsibility, and called for collective mobilisation to kick cancer out.
The president said that he inherited a healthcare service with no cancer diagnostic facility at any of the government hospitals in the country; no radiotherapy services; and no comprehensive cancer treatment hospital.
He said there are very few trained oncologists in the entire country, not because the doctors and nurses do not want to be trained, but because they lack opportunities to get trained.
He stated that as a result of a severe lack of medical equipment, surgical oncology or chemotherapy services in the country are limited or nearly impossible to access, resulting in Sierra Leoneans spending $1.5 million every year flying mainly to Ghana for cancer diagnosis and care.
President Bio said that financial and emotional burden inflicted by cancer, are unbearable for families and for the government.
“As a Government, we have closely examined the problem, analysed it, and undertaken purposeful planning. We believe that cancer is preventable, and that Sierra Leoneans should be fully informed about risk factors. We also believe that because early detection and diagnosis saves lives, we must intensify awareness campaigns. There is no place for misguided cultural notions about the symptoms of cancer or stigma for cancer patients.
“We also believe that cancer can be cured, and treatment must be accessible locally in Sierra Leone. That treatment must also be affordable to every Sierra Leonean who is diagnosed with cancer. In addition, we believe that we must seek out and offer training opportunities to our selfless and committed oncology nurses and doctors, so that we have a critical mass of dedicated medical personnel for diagnosing and treating cancer,” he said.
President Bio also stated that his government has taken steps towards establishing a National Diagnostic Centre and a Radiotherapy Cancer Treatment Centre, through a strategic partnership with VARIAN – a US based organisation that is working in various African countries.
He said that his government has signed an MoU with VARIAN for the establishment of a National Diagnostic Centre to perform tests such as MRI, endoscopy, CT scan and other cancer-related diagnostic tests.
“The Radiotherapy Cancer Treatment Centre will cost €8.3 million. The National Diagnostic Centre will cost €11.5 million. The total cost is €19.8 million. Government has negotiated full financing for both projects that requires government to pay a 15% down payment before the commencement of work and to make complete repayment within 10 years at a low interest rate of 1.7%.
“I promised the people of Sierra Leone that all ill-gotten monies recovered from corrupt persons will be given back to the people of Sierra Leone from whom the monies were stolen. We have already invested money from leakages and waste into free quality education that benefits our children and into a free national ambulance service,” he said.
He recalled that last month the Anti-Corruption Commission presented him with a cheque for over 8 Billion Leones or $1 million dollars, adding that in line with his promise to the people of Sierra Leone, he would use that money to construct and fully equip a National Medical Diagnostic Centre.
“As the Commissions of Inquiry proceed, Sierra Leoneans will know where more of the country’s stolen money is and we will recover those and put them into education, healthcare, and food security that will benefit every Sierra Leonean regardless of party, tribe, or region. Every Sierra Leonean deserves better – full stop.
“Finally, I am also pleased to announce that the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), has secured funding support from the Government of the People’s Republic of China to commence construction and fully equip units in two government hospitals and five peripheral health units in Western Area Rural and Urban, that will be dedicated to cervical cancer screening and management,” president Bio said.
With the theme: “I am and I will”, a three-year Cancer Impact Campaign has been launched, championed by the Office of the First Lady.
Speaking about her cancer campaign, the First Lady – Mrs Fatima Maada Bio, said that the theme “I am and I will” is about challenging every Sierra Leonean woman to be informed and be empowered.
She said that her office is working on building a dedicated cancer care centre in Sierra Leone as a matter of urgency, noting that because of the magnitude of the cancer crisis among women in Sierra Leone in particular, the construction of a diagnostic and treatment centre is a priority.
“We have engaged architects who have designed and developed an architectural concept for a 300-bed facility. My office hereby presents both the concept and the architectural blueprint to the Government of Sierra Leone for consideration. We must dream big as a nation in order to solve our country’s most pressing needs.
“Merck Foundation is sponsoring the training of ten oncology specialists at premier cancer-care institutions in India and Egypt. Upon their return to Sierra Leone after one year and two years respectively, local technical expertise around cancer diagnosis, treatment and care will be strengthened. We will continue to advocate for additional training opportunities for our nurses and doctors,” she assured.
Minister of health and sanitation – Dr Alpha Tejan Wurie said his ministry is working to reduce people’s exposure to the disease. He said there are plans to construct a radiotherapy centre in the country, that would help save the lives of Sierra Leoneans. He also encouraged people to improve their diet as a preventive measure.
Also present at the event were Vice President Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, Abdul Otongi Conteh from the National Cancer Registry; Madam Simingie Mondeh – a Cancer Survivor; Madam Tina Davis from the Well Woman Clinic; and Madam Elizabeth Bangura from ECOWAS Health – who has donated an Ultra Sound Machine to the Government of Sierra Leone.