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SavingMayowa: My Take As A Nigerian Physician And Cancer Advocate

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Wednesday, August 31st, 2016
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I read about the death of Mayowa Ahmed last week with great sadness. I pray that her suffering is over and Allah accepts her soul in paradise. Her 4-year battle with Ovarian cancer ended with a disheartening controversy. Although Mayowa lost her life, I hope that we will all look deeply into our souls and learn some obvious lessons.

The question I am repeatedly asked is “Could she have survived stage 4 Ovarian cancer?” I’d like to articulate my opinion as a physician, a cancer advocate and most of all a God fearing Nigerian. Perhaps if she was born in America, exercised frequently all her life, eaten  a balanced diet of legumes and fruits, had access to serviced and functioning linear accelerator machines, and used a health care system that is well regulated and audited, with surveillance for high risk women, AND her cancer was detected early, she might have had the 35% 5-year survival rate American women with stage 4 Ovarian cancer have. As it was, she wasn’t born in America and probably didn’t meet the physical preconditions required to have that 35% fighting chance. Her health system did not make her health checks mandatory. To make matters worse, the diagnosis and treatment she required is not funded by her national health insurance system and certainly was not available for her at the time she needed it even if she had the funds. We have 7 dated linear accelerator machines that function in a stop start manner with lengthy intervals of inactivity in Nigeria. Last week only 2 in Sokoto and Abuja were running. As a finale, Mayowa had insufficient funds to seek treatment outside the country.

So what did she and her family do? They reached out to loud voices in their society and asked for help. We heard their cry and responded. The #SaveMayowa campaign raised a phenomenal N81 million and $100, 000 in an unprecedented show of empathy within a short space of time. Instead of flying out once deemed fit to fly, what followed was a media fueled controversy.

The Doctors in LUTH where she was on admission have understandably distanced themselves from the controversy. Attending Doctors generally do not get involved in fund raising  for their patients. It could be seen as unethical. Her family and those who helped her should not be blamed.

Alongside other family members, we recently watched my father fade away. As a ‘doctor’ they would come to me regarding his condition with sometimes with reasonable questions but mostly with unreasonable requests for a miracle that no matter how much I wished it, I could not give to them. On the 5th of July, my mother woke me up at 5am to demand in her loudest unreasonable voice that we move him to an alternative care hospital. We did not. On the 6th of July, he passed away. It is indescribable loss with a lot of pain. My family, like Mayowa’s were doing what any human being with piety would. They were not giving up without a fight for their loved one.

I have worked with closely Toyin Aimakhu for about 4 years now to raise funds for patients that cannot afford treatment. Not just cancer patients, but also IDPs. She is a very spontaneous, emotional, bubbly and most of all “giving” person. She has never demanded payment and would cancel paying jobs in her schedule to fit our fundraisers @medicaidradCF. Thank you Toyin and personally, #IStandByToyin. I believe that her family, Toyin and all those that donated to #SaveMayowa did what they thought was in her best interest.

I hope that the unpleasant aftermath will not deter them or stain the good intentions that made them stand by Mayowa in her time of need.

The major lessons to me are as follows:

1- Seek knowledge and educate yourself about deadly illnesses in your environment and in particular your family.

2-Live as healthily as you can and have regular checks as prescribed by your sex, lifestyle and family medical history. #EarlyDetectionSavesLives

3- By all means pray and seek miracles, but work to earn the miracle. For faith without work is dead James 2:14.

4- Nigerians have a lot of goodness in their hearts. Their response in this case is an indication of a nation of faithful people. The Quran [2:215] says “Any good you do, God is fully aware thereof and when you give charity, give it with faith”

5- Do not believe everything you read. Journalists, be it the traditional media or new media, owe their readers the duty to run checks and authenticate stories. We as readers should also delay a bit before reposting and helping to perpetuate hurt. Closely related to this is the urge to post every detail of ones life in new media. We must tread carefully and teach our children also. Electronic trails live forever. One push of the send button could hurt your great-grandchildren.

6- I am a fundraiser and I can squeeze water out of a stone. I don’t raise just money, I raise good and worthy acts. I make people realize that no act of charity is small and you can always give. However we should learn some caution from Mayowa’s story. Be cautious of whom you give to and ensure they are credible and worthy of the fruits of your labour. And when you do give, give with FAITH. We cannot claim to have faith when we demand an end from God that pleases us most.

There are other medical/technical lessons too which might not mean much here so I will not say beyond once more emphasizing the need to fix our hospitals and health finance systems.

My final word is simple. AMANAH. The closest literal English translation is fulfilling or upholding trusts. Amanah is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to GOD and fulfilling one’s obligations due to MAN. Eighty Million Naira could not have been spent in South Africa. As a matter of urgency, the funds raised MUST be publicly and transparently accounted for by those who now control it. They MUST use it to fund treatment for those who cannot afford it. There are many Mayowa’s out there. My Queens college schoolmate Folake Ajibola is right where Mayowa was. This is what posterity is going to judge them by. Only then will we close Mayowa’s case.


Dr Zainab Shinkafi Bagudu

Founder @medicaidradCF

Paediatric Consultant

Wife of Kebbi State Governor