The National Hospital, Abuja, on Thursday, inaugurated its telemedicine unit for the diagnosis and staging of breast cancer.
The hospital’s Head of Radiotherapy and Oncology Department, Dr Uchechukwu Shagaya, at the inauguration, said that the unit was designed to help bring specialists closer to patients so the patients could get prompt needed care.
The unit was established in partnership with Pfizer BioPharmaceutical Group.
Mr Shagaya said, “there is also a seminar on `The Use of Telemedicine in Diagnosis and Staging of Breast Cancer.”
According to her, late presentation and misdiagnosis of breast cancer are some of the major issues hindering its treatment in Nigeria.
She added that “one of the problems we have been having is late presentation. Some patients will tell you that I was going to the doctor, they told me that there is nothing wrong with my breast.
“However, with sessions like what we have just had and what we plan to be having regularly, doctors in rural areas who are not oncologists will know exactly what they are supposed to do for the diagnosis.
“By the time they send the patients to tertiary centres, the process has started and nothing has been missed so it will definitely improve outcome by improving early detection and treatment.
“So, if we are able to get every doctor whether from the rural or urban area to hear the lecture we had today, nobody will make a mistake with diagnosing patients.”
Mr Shagaya said that the practice of oncology is usually done in the high end urban regions but that should not deprive those in rural areas from getting the best management of cancer related diseases.
She added that by bridging the gap, doctors would be guided and know how to refer patients for radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Speaking on the inaugurated unit, she said it was the first phase of the implementation.
“So, it is telemedicine that we are inaugurating in National Hospital today. It is phase one where the healthcare provider who is a doctor can call a number and speak to another doctor who is a specialist for now for 10 minutes or less.
“If they want more of the discussion and more detailed discussion, they can actually schedule a virtual meeting.
“In phase two of this, we plan to actually be able to consult with patients, we are able to do the healthcare provider consultation, we are going to do trainings online, webinars and reach out with the help of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) to doctors in rural areas.”
The Medical Director of Pfizer Biopharmaceutical Group for Sub-Saharan Africa, Dr Soroh Kodjo, said that the benefits of using telemedicine for diagnosis of breast cancer are tremendous.
According to him, there are some patients that will not be able to go abroad for treatment but through this, they will be able to access care here in the country.
“They will be here in Nigeria and still have that expert input in their management; so, it is unquantifiable.
“Also, Nigeria will save a lot of billions of dollars that would have been spent in going abroad for treatment because it is a partnership not just with Pfizer and National Hospital, but also with experts outside the shores of this country.”
Mr Kodjo also said that because there were limitations to the diagnosis and staging of breast cancer, the group was also working not only with the National Hospital but with pathologists across the country.
This, he said, was with a view to improving capacity to make the right diagnosis so that patients could receive care.
“So, the collaboration is like using the National Hospital platform to bring this technology. It is the first in this sub region; so, we are happy to partner them and that is part of addressing our mission which is reaching the last patient faster.
“How can we reach the last patient faster?, he said, “with this technology, we can.”