By Bamidele Salako Photos: Ken Ehimen
Cancer Free City (CFC) aims to build Africa’s, and perhaps, the world’s first fully-funded integrated cancer management and research center in Nigeria. Treatment will be free for all Nigerians who are diagnosed with the disease. Yes, you read right- FREE! And founder, Samuel Jegede believes that such bold visions are often thought impossible till they are accomplished. CFC hopes to raise 240 billion naira through crowdfunding to establish a massive fully equipped facility with the latest cutting-edge technology in cancer treatment and research. The primary objective is to curb Nigeria’s cancer epidemic by treating patients absolutely free and relieving them of the cumbersome financial or debt burden that often weighs heavily on cancer patients and their families. What’s the strategy? CFC will engage five million Nigerians who will partner with a monthly donation of two thousand naira for 24 consecutive months. Lofty but laudable if you ask and for Jegede and his team of fellow visionaries, quite achievable.
How did you conceive the idea of Cancer Free City?
The idea of Cancer Free City came after a series of events. My mom was diagnosed of cancer and that period was emotional for everybody as we had to raise money for the treatment. The experience put one in a position of reflection. A lot of questions will run through your mind during such a period, but we were fortunate to get a loved one who was willing and able to pay for her treatment. When you check the statistics, you will see that not a lot of people are as lucky as she was to have had loved ones who could foot the treatment bill. So, I got thinking and thought of being a part of any organization that gives free cancer treatment but didn’t find one. Therefore, I determined to be part of creating it; and that’s how we came about cancer free city. The treatment is costly. In fact, sometimes when people are trying to get cash for treatment, their state worsens, and it might then require more money than initially required. The open cancer statistics in Nigeria brought us to that situation where we have to come up with a solution. Has it ever been done before? Probably not. Is it going to be easy? Probably not. But is it doable? Yes, it is doable. So, we came up with the idea from personal experience looking at the statistics, and wanting to be part of the solution rather than complaining about the problem.
The vision of your organisation is to make free cancer treatment available to all Nigerians. Now, that’s capital intensive – how do you aim to raise the funds to make this happen and what sustainability buffers do you have in place to keep this going?
We believe that with collaborative efforts, we can make it happen. According to the last statistics we got, there are over 5 million cancer patients in Nigeria, 250,000 cases annually, yet we have no comprehensive cancer treatment in Nigeria. Also, according to the statistics, there are only two functioning radiotherapy machines in Nigeria – a nation of about 200 million people that should ideally have about 200 radiotherapy machines fully functional. We have a dearth of oncologists in Nigeria. We believe that a lot of people have been affected by this. We can’t sit and wait for someone to come and set up something that will make a lot of money from us. We believe that if as a nation we put funds together and we determine to build these things, we can achieve it and run it for free. Five million Nigerians giving two thousand naira for 24 months. We have created a structure not to cap Nigerians to give two thousand naira; you can give more, but we believe with this structure, if everybody is involved, we can make this happen. Five million Nigerians, two thousand naira monthly in two years; that’s 240 billion naira. And this will build and fully equip this cancer treatment center. Now, you can check other cancer treatment centers in the world, especially the one in Alberta. I gathered that the Calgary Cancer Center that they intend to build in Alberta, Canada is going to cost $1.4 billion. We intend to build the treatment center, have our specialists fully resident and also create support facilities like schools, staff lodging, shopping centers and the likes. To sustain it, we believe that Nigerians can keep giving to just keep the place going because we want the best hands, and this is more or less like the only income the specialists will have. We need to pay them well, and keep them focused on saving lives. Therefore, we need all hands on deck; we need Nigerians to keep giving. We are also looking at having businesses within this community that would generate more money to pay our staff. We would have shopping centers and a theme park like we said, and other businesses that would generate money. We intend for the treatment to be absolutely free.
Is it possible for your non-profit to accomplish this without government leadership particularly in a developing country like Nigeria?
Cancer Free City is a social enterprise quite alright but government alone cannot do everything. Even if they tried, they cannot solve all the problems. They need private sector support. They need people to rise up and come up with initiatives that would make life better for the citizens. That means we need government input. For example, for the land we intend to use, we are willing to partner with any state government that is willing to partner with us. So, government partnership is absolutely necessary.
Since you launched a few weeks ago, what type of feedback have you being getting?
We have been getting support from a lot of Nigerians. We’ve seen people reposting and talking about it on social media, and people reaching out too. And you begin to hear some stories that are quite emotional. A guy reached out to us that he lost his mom and dad to cancer. And another said he lost his mom to cancer. This particular story was quite sad because he said he went back to the hospital six months after his mom had passed, and still saw two patients who had been in beds beside his mum’s and they were not let out of the hospital because they were yet to settle their medical bills. It’s feedback like that that keeps us on our toes. Generally speaking, the feedback has been encouraging and it keeps us going. We have made up our minds that we would make this happen but the feedback shows that this is very timely.
When this finally gets off the ground, can we explain what the modus operandi for selecting patients would be like?
We have a few things in place. First of all, it is going to be on a first come, first served basis and we hope that people will register online as well. What we hope to do is to have several diagnostic centers in each state, where people can walk in to do some screening, and if found to have cancer, their names would then be forwarded to our list. So, it’s going to be strictly a first come, first served thing. It’s via our diagnostics center that you can come to the city. If you have been diagnosed of cancer via our center, your name will be sent and you will be given a time to come.
Another concern people will have is that when selecting people, abuses like nepotism and favoritism might come in, how do you intend to address this concern?
Firstly, some of the things we intend to do is to have more diagnostics centers in rural areas where people who we know can’t afford this live. Two, the issue of transparency; Nigerians are coming together to build this and we don’t intend to have a place where because someone knows me or someone in the center, their name would then be moved to the top of the list. However, people who donate to this would be given preference because they made this happen. For example, if there are 10 people who donated, and 10 others who didn’t, it only makes sense to give preference to those who donated. They are still going to treat everybody but you attend to those who donated first. In the case of transparency, the registration process will be electronic. In fact, it’s going to be as open as possible and we’re going to show the public how many people we’ve treated and how they were selected. It’s going to be televised and the people are going to share their testimonies because people need to see what their money went into. So, anything that would make people term it as nepotism or something of that such, we would desist from it.
In terms of fund raising, what transparency and accountability structures do you have in place?
We have control systems in place. First is an advisory board comprising Nigerians that have a track record of integrity.
Can you mention some?
We have the Chief Medical Director of the Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Adewale Oke, Popoola Abiodun, Lanre Olusola, Olakunle Sorinyan, to mention a few. We have them on board and this advisory board will also double as the vetting team. And the vetting team will give a unanimous approval before funds can be disbursed, that’s one. Two, in the organization, the treasurer is the signatory; the other two signatories are on the vetting committee. So, before any fund goes out, apart from their unanimous approval, you still need their signature. We can’t just take impulsive decisions to disburse funds; we have to show and prove to them why, because apart from advising us, they are representing the masses. We’ve put that in place. Three, we’re going to be disclosing our account statement monthly. So, you know how much came in and how much went out. Even the public would be able follow up and track money on projects. Even for bids, we are going to disclose the total – if we are going through a bidding process. We are going to disclose all the figures that were presented after picking the best bid. Finally, the external auditors will be given the license to publish any red flag that they see. We believe these four control systems are quite decent. We know that other control systems will come up as we go.
So, what challenges do you anticipate in chasing this audacious goal and what steps are you taking to navigate those hurdles?
Well, we believe a lot of approvals will be needed and we would need government support for those approvals to be given fast. We know that a lot of equipment will be shipped and we hope for lots of waivers because we believe Nigerians are going to benefit from this. You must have a heart of stone to intentionally try to stop or discourage such a project, and we believe that a lot of Nigerians in politics and in positions of power would rise up to support this vision.
How can people be a part of this laudable drive and what innovative uses of social media are you considering to get the buy-in of Nigerians?
Well, social media constitutes like 70% of our campaign strategy, and we believe that everybody has a mobile device, a laptop computer or go to a Cyber Cafe to browse. So, we’re going to use the power of social media. We would be requiring the support of influencers basically. We’re reaching out to some of them and we hope they would reach out to us also to make this possible because this dream can either be frustrated or become easier than we thought. It can be frustrated if people are sending negative vibes but if people say I would do my own part by giving the two thousand required for this project to come to reality, then it will be enabled. We are going to use social media a lot. We want five million Nigerians to donate two thousand naira monthly for support financially. We also need their support in spreading the word. It is only when it goes out there that we can reach more people.
Are people already donating?
Yes, people have donated but people can decide to give more than the amount and can decide to give once – for instance, two thousand naira monthly for two years is forty eight thousand naira, so a person can decide to pay this lump sum or can even decide to drop more. They can go to cancerfreecity.org to donate and click on give. And they can decide to give two thousand naira monthly, once they enter their details and give us an order to deduct two thousand naira monthly from their account, and they can decide to give once. The two options are there. We have the heroes and champions categories. And we also need the support of social media influencers to make this dream a reality. It’s a big one but we can do this.