The Pink Blue Odyssey
Awarded the 2018 World Cancer Day Spirit Award at the World Cancer Congress, Project Pink Blue is focused on changing the African mindset towards cancerBy Shalaka Kulkarni
In the words of the inimitable Martin Luther King, Jr: ”Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘”What are you doing for others?” Driven not just by passion and emotions but by reason and logic too, the Nigerian cancer awareness non-profit organisation, Project Pink Blue (PPB), is on a journey to change the way Africans think about cancer. Its core activities include cancer awareness, free cancer screenings, supporting cancer warriors, patient navigation, advocacy, fundraising activities, cancer research and providing psychological support to cancer patients and survivors. PPB was awarded the 2018 World Cancer Day Spirit Award at the World Cancer Congress, held at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The World Cancer Day Spirit Award is a prestigious award presented by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to recognise organisations that demonstrate a generous collaborative spirit in their World Cancer Day activities. Over 100 organisations across the globe participated in this convention. The UICC announced PPB as the winner of the World Cancer Day Spirit Award at the General Assembly on October 2.
“We have to touch more lives and advocate for better cancer care in Nigeria. Special thanks to all our partners and volunteers. We need you all to support us for the 2019 World Cancer Day, let’s make it bigger,” said Runcie C W Chidebe, founder and executive director, PPB, while accepting the award. Chidebe, a cancer control advocate and a social entrepreneur, is the godfather of PPB. He is one of the winners of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme in 2015 and an alumnus of the United States Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program. At a May 2016 Democracy Day event co-hosted by the US Embassy of Abuja, he presented a paper entitled Civic Participation: Stimulating Empathy in Nigerian Youth, in which he encouraged youth to become civic leaders and build connections in their community through citizen engagement. He seizes every opportunity to educate, inspire, and empower Nigerian youth.
“Until We Begin To Change The Way Our People Think About Cancer, We Cannot Change The Late Detection Of Cancer.”Runcie C W Chidebe, Founder and Executive Director, PPB
Nigeria ranks first in Africa and fifth in the world in number of cervical cancer deaths, with over 26 women dying daily. There are no comprehensive cancer treatment centres and that is why cancer appears to be a death sentence in Nigeria and across Africa, compared to other parts of the world. The aim of PPB is to change the existing cancer scenario and statistics and to stimulate cancer research and advocacy as a central measure for cancer control in Nigeria and the African province. “Until we begin to change the way our people think about cancer, we cannot change late detection of cancer,” says Chidebe. Around 80 per cent of cancer patients are diagnosed at advanced stages of their diseases in Nigeria due to poor awareness. Many people are unaware of behavioural and dietary risks that trigger cancer, including high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and alcohol intake. The 31-year-old founder pledges to revolutionise this. PPB aims to reach remote communities in the hinterlands and connecting cancer patients, while revolutionising Nigeria’s health sector. For educating Nigerian countrymen, PPB has translated cancer awareness materials into Nigerian languages like Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and Pidgin English in partnership with the US-based breast cancer foundation, Susan G Komen.
They have created a sustainable and culturally friendly platform to improve the lives of people living with advanced breast cancer in various communities, to reduce the incidence of advanced breast cancer and to contribute to policy dynamism in cancer care in Nigeria. The Breast Cancer Navigation and Palliative Programme, as it is known, has trained 42 nurses and breast cancer survivors to champion this vision. To help patients and survivors tackle psychological challenges including denial, self-hatred, fear, regret and feelings of failure and absolute withdrawal, PPB launched Nigeria’s first patient navigation programme in 2015, which works with breast cancer survivors, social workers and nurses to navigate cancer patients through the circle of cancer care and travel with them through their journey. PPB also launched a toll-free telephone centre, certified by the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health, and the only one of its kind in Nigeria, providing resources and a listening ear to those affected by cancer.
Millions of Africans often cannot afford cancer diagnosis, let alone treatment. PPB has helps raise money for screening and treatment. PPB also offers free cancer screening—cervical and breast examinations—across various communities in Nigeria.