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Innocent Chukwuma and the big war against cancer

Innocent Chukwuma and the big war against cancer
April 14
11:29 2021


“Where you live should not determine whether you live or whether you die” – Bono.

I was so devastated and am yet to recover from the shock of the news of the sudden transition of Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, the immediate past Director of Ford Foundation’s West Africa office. I am indeed saddened at the loss of Innocent, one of the most devoted civil right activists in Sub-Saharan Africa. I express my deepest condolences to the bereaved family, especially Mrs. Chukwuma and their daughters. May God keep them in His warm embrace.

Mr. Chukwuma’s pedigree as an advocate of civil rights has left an enduring seal on the national and global arena. One aspect of Innocent’s career that made him stand out was the compassion and creativity that he brought to the grant-making process. Our project benefitted from this compassionate creativity. We first met Mr. Chukwuma in 2014, at a period we were advocating for the acquisition and deployment of Mobile Cancer Centres (MCCs), in order to take free wholistic preventive Cancer care to the grassroots of Nigeria, as part of ‘the BIG WAR Against Cancer’.


Before meeting Chukwuma, we had met other grant-making CEOs, some of whom gave us the convenient excuse that Cancer fell outside their thematic area(s); Innocent Chukwuma was radically different. After listening to our presentation and asking some hard questions, Innocent told us that while Cancer was outside Ford’s thematic areas, he would think of a way for the Foundation to support the basic idea of concerted and catalytic philanthropy, which is our cornerstone. This led to months of research and the eventual publication of our seminal book titled “Giving in Nigeria – an Environmental Scan of Corporate Philanthropy”, solely funded by the Ford Foundation.

The thoughtfulness of Chukwuma in supporting this publication helped to open other doors so that a fleet of Mobile Cancer Centres was eventually acquired and has been deployed to great effect by the National Cancer Prevention Programme (NCPP); a nonprofit initiative of the mass medical mission. Moreover, the project is now at the phase of establishing the first Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC) in Nigeria. Innocent’s compassionate approach reminds one of Edward Hale’s quote: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still, I can do something.” Innocent Chukwuma did not refuse to do what he could do, just because he could not do everything we proposed. We mourn and lament the fact that Innocent’s life of compassion has now been cut short by Cancer.

Mr. Innocent Chukwuma would be greatly missed by the entire civic society, including the grantees whom he partnered in numberless noble projects. However, even as we grieve his irreplaceable loss and celebrate his cherished memory, we must rededicate ourselves to the values to which he devoted his extraordinary life, especially the fight against inequality and injustice. A crucial way of doing so is for all his friends, associates and admirers to go all out in waging the BIG War Against Cancer in Nigeria.


Cancer remains a major cause of geographic, racial, social and gender inequality. According to WHO, Cancer is the single most important barrier to increasing life expectancy in every country of the world in the 21st century. Therefore, Nigeria’s low life expectancy (currently the global seventh lowest) will not improve, unless we tackle Cancer. Worldwide, there were 19.3 million new cancer cases in 2020, with over 120,000 new cases in Nigeria alone. There were 10 million global Cancer deaths in 2020, with 70 percent of deaths occurring in developing nations like Nigeria. The higher number of cancer death in developing nations is a result of inequality in access to Cancer care and poor infrastructure.

In memory of Innocent Chukwuma, we call on all to support the drive to establish Nigeria’s first Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC). A CCC is NOT merely a hospital that has a radiotherapy machine. Rather, a CCC is a world-class, stand-alone tertiary health institution, with all its departments focused exclusively on cancer care. The CCC houses first-class Cancer research, preventive, curative and palliative care in one place, thereby leading to better outcomes across a range of measures – including, most importantly, Cancer survival.

We lament the fact that whilst India has over 200 CCC (mostly non-governmental/nonprofit), Nigeria has none. Consequently, Nigerians spend over one billion dollars on foreign treatment annually, an amount sufficient to establish 20 CCC in Nigeria every year! Tragically, those who seek care abroad often die from late intervention. Moreover, the COVID-related global lockdown has shown that medical tourism may not always be available, even if one could afford it. The worst affected are poor Cancer victims who can afford neither local nor foreign treatment.

Dr. Abia Nzelu is the executive secretary of GivingTide international). He can be reached via [email protected]



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