Every year, more than 10 million people fall victim to cancer, with a staggering 70% of these deaths occurring in low-to-middle-income countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that Africa alone sees 1.1 million new cases of cancer annually, leading to up to 70,000 fatalities. This insidious disease is one of the topmost causes of death, second only to cardiovascular diseases.
One of the countries hardest hit by this devastating disease is Nigeria. The Global Cancer Observatory reports that in Nigeria, an alarming 4 out of 5 cancer cases end in death. This translates to a staggering 250,000 new cancer cases recorded each year and 10,000 deaths annually. The sad truth is that many of these cases could have been prevented if routine screening and early detection had taken place. In fact, WHO states that nearly one-third of all cancer-related deaths could be prevented through these measures.
These ain’t just numbers on a page. These are real people with real lives. These statistics represent someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, friend, or loved one. In a country where getting decent healthcare feels like winning the lottery, what happens to the average Nigerian diagnosed with cancer?
Enter Kemi Adedigba, a 25-year-old with a mission. In the fourth quarter of 2020, Kemi, a Human Anatomy grad from Bowen University, got fed up with the state of healthcare in Nigeria. Everywhere she turned, she saw folks suffering from chronic illnesses, begging on the streets. Instead of turning a blind eye, she started digging and researching the ins and outs of the healthcare system in Nigeria.
Fast forward to January 2021, and Kemi co-founded Hub For Social Impact and Development with like-minded friends. In February, she wrote a book, We Should All Be Changemakers, and used the proceeds to make a difference in the lives of four kids suffering from leukaemia, sepsis and pleural effusion, cerebrospinal meningitis, and pneumonia.
And that, my friends, is how you turn a problem into a solution.
In a heart-wrenching testimony uploaded on the Hub For Social Impact and Development’s Youtube Channel, a single mother, simply identified as Mummy Oba, recounts the tumultuous journey her family endured in seeking medical treatment for her son. After navigating a series of dead-ends at various hospitals and depleting their finances, the desperate mother was referred to the University College Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria. With no resources left and mounting debt, Mummy Oba was sceptical when she heard of an organization offering aid. However, against all odds, Hub came through in a big way, covering all of her son’s medical expenses, including bed fees and post-discharge physiotherapy. “God really used them for my son,” the young mother said, overcome with emotion, “and I’m so grateful that he is alive. I am very thankful for their organisation and I keep praying for them because they saved my son’s life.”
Mrs Muniru, another beneficiary’s mother, paints a harrowing picture of the struggle to get her daughter, Suliyat, the medical care she desperately needed. Despite initial visits to local hospitals, Suliyat’s condition worsened and she was eventually diagnosed with Cerebrospinal Meningitis at the University College Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria. With limited means and mounting hospital bills, Mrs Muniru and her husband, who earn a living through petty trading and handcrafts, were at their wits’ end. Desperately in need of medical treatment, they borrowed money for the first dose of daily medication, but could not afford to continue the treatment. It was in a moment of hopelessness that a nurse approached Mrs Muniru with the news that an NGO, Hub, was offering to help. To her surprise, the organization covered the cost of the medication, as well as supporting the family emotionally and financially until Suliyat’s discharge. “Thank you so much, you too will find helpers.” Mrs Muniru expresses her deep gratitude to the organisation, marvelling that she never could have imagined leaving the hospital with her daughter alive.
The organization confirmed that the last time they heard from Mrs Muniru, she shared the exciting news that Suliyat had passed her junior WAEC exams with flying colours, a testament to the life-saving support the Hub provided. Since then, the organization has saved and supported over 50 children, earning a commendation award from the Paediatrics Department at the University College Hospital, the premier tertiary health institution in Nigeria. In addition to their lifesaving work, The Hub For Social Impact has added a touch of joy to the hospital experience by organizing art & music festivals in the pediatric wards, transforming otherwise bleak and sombre spaces into lively, happy places.
More recently, the organization has felt a growing call to help cancer patients, a population that has seen a rapid increase in Nigeria. “Everybody knows a cancer patient, or knows someone who does,” said Kemi, the organization’s founder, “So I started to ask questions and research, what can we do for cancer patients?”
Against the backdrop of a cancer epidemic in Nigeria, Kemi, aka “The Changemaker,” has established the Cancer Aid Fund, a social trust that offers financial and psychological support to those affected by the disease. The fund offers a 50% copayment to patients to help cover the cost of treatment, while also partnering with primary healthcare centres to provide free cancer screening and early diagnosis campaigns in communities.
In order to raise funds for the Cancer Aid Fund, Kemi turned to her artistic talents. “I’ve been painting since 2019,” she said. “I enjoy it, even though I didn’t actively share or sell my works before this time. It was merely a hobby and a mode of expression for me.”
In December 2022, she launched the Art4Health Shop, which sells art, merchandise, and Afrocentric fashion items with the goal of using the proceeds to support cancer patients in Nigeria. The pilot phase of the Cancer Aid Fund aims to provide copayment assistance to 10 cancer patients, covering the costs of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, as well as free cancer screening for 1,000 Nigerians in the first quarter of 2023.
In Nigeria, a cancer diagnosis can send shockwaves through the affected individual and their loved ones, with the added burden of exorbitant treatment costs leaving many unable to access the care they need. “Even for the Nigerians who are above average, it still would be difficult because cancer care is expensive.”
With a passion for social justice, Kemi’s ultimate goal is to ensure every Nigerian has access to comprehensive health insurance coverage, and to create a network of state-of-the-art cancer care centres within every tertiary health institution in the country, making it possible for those in need to receive treatment without having to travel abroad.
Through her Art4Health initiative, Kemi is using her artistic talents to help fill the Cancer Aid Fund, with her goal being to build it into a multi-billion-dollar organization providing ongoing support to those in need. It’s a daunting task, but with Kemi’s unwavering commitment, anything is possible.