In Nigeria, not enough men know about prostate cancer – the form of cancer most common among men –and how to go about its treatment if detected. But the cancer NGO Project Pink Blue is embarking on a massive awareness campaign that involves free counselling and tests and a mobilisation of the resources needed for treatment.

In July, Project Pink Blue launched its Men on Blue initiative, a health intervention focusing on closing the gap in awareness, education and screenings for prostate cancer in Nigeria. The first phase included an awareness walk, which was held in the cities of Enugu and Abuja respectively. The aim was to collaborate with other health groups in providing major interventions on cancer. This month, the group is organising another walk in Lagos to raise awareness of cancer.

Project Pink Blue says that their target is to provide free prostate cancer screening to over 2 000 men in Nigeria, and to impact on thousands more, either directly or indirectly, with prostate health information.

“Every October, organisations roll their drums to focus awareness on breast cancer. However, prostate cancer is always missing from the spotlight. Many men die in silence and pain because their prostate cancer was discovered at a late stage,” Runcie Chidebe, the founder and executive director of Project Pink Blue, told This is Africa.

Founded in 2013 as a non-profit, community-based cancer initiative, Project Pink Blue has been providing free cancer screenings for poor communities to help phase out the late diagnosis of cancer in Africa. More than a million people have been reached through outreaches and campaigns.

Prostate cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in Nigeria and the leading cause of cancer deaths in Nigerian men.

“Prostate cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in Nigeria and the leading cause of cancer deaths in Nigerian men. However, very little or nothing is said publically about prostate cancer in Nigeria,” Chidebe said.

Creating awareness

In Nigeria, cancer leads to more than 72 000 deaths per annum, with 30 924 male cases and 40 647 female cases. The number is set to increase, given that there are 102 000 new cases of cancer every year. The estimated incidence of prostate cancer is 12% and estimated mortality is 13%.

Photo credit: Project Pink Blue

However, Project Pink Blue is working towards addressing the scale of death caused by the disease by providing awareness and designing campaigns and programmes through personalised communication to reach the target audience.

“The intervention will use three core strategies: prostate cancer awareness, free screenings for prostate cancer and social media campaigns,” said professor Peter Ebigbo, an expert in psychological medicine and board chairman of the group.

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Programme and communications officer Emeka Nwagboso said, “Our radio awareness and jingles have reached over 6 million people in 13 states and we are hoping to exceed that in the future. We were able to reach out to over 1 000 people with prostate health awareness, 162 men received free prostate-specific antigen tests and 25 men presented with abnormal PSA results.”

Partnering with the US to train doctors

In February, the United States entered into a partnership with the group to embark on medical training for 44 Nigerian clinical oncologists at the African University of Science and Technology. The training curriculum was jointly developed by American and Nigerian oncologists and professors, with the training helping to improve cancer care and treatment across Nigeria.

Upgrade Oncology” is a capacity-development programme focused on improving cancer treatment and care through the provision of medical oncology training, update/top-up trainings, development of medical oncology curriculum, review and domestication of the treatment guidelines for better cancer care in Nigeria,” a statement from the United States Embassy said.

Photo credit: Project Pink Blue

For the training programme, two US-based certified medical oncologists will visit Nigeria, through the Fulbright Specialist Programme, to work with 40 trained clinical oncologists. The goal is to improve cancer care and mutual learning between the professionals and the institutions. The Nigerian medical oncologists and the US medical oncologists will work together to develop training modules for first-class medical oncology care in Nigeria.

“I am excited about this new partnership with the United States to support Nigerian doctors with medical oncology training, building dynamic and excellent cancer treatment in Nigeria,” Chidebe said.

Aside from this partnership, the group has been partnering with Nigeria’s federal ministry of health for years in various areas, including education, research, policy and general cancer awareness.

“As an organisation, we have invested so much in awareness and free screenings but we had less investment in the quality of care being given to the cancer patient. This innovative and dynamic initiative will help to upgrade the quality of care and treatment for cancer patients in Nigeria, thereby improving survivorship,” Chidebe said.