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Kenya’s fight against cancer: Double tragedy for patients

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“My government has dedicated sufficient resources to ensure that Kenyans access modern, effective and high quality treatment in their counties”, reads part of president Uhuru Kenyatta’s speech, guaranteeing Kenyans progress in health services.

Sadly, the country, more so needy cancer patients, have nothing to smile about with health policy makers neither empathizing with their pain nor harnessing access to cancer medications.

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From a nerve-wracking trend, cancer is the third killer diseases in Kenya after infectious and cardiovascular ailments.

National statistics

Yearly, over 20,000 deaths reportedly occur as a result of cancer while 40,000 new cancer cases recorded in the country.

Cancer, the most dreaded lifestyle disease, going by statistics is consuming more lives fronted by luxurious cost-treatment, the inside source by Kenya Television Network (KTN) reveals.

In the presence of few cancer experts and limited chemotherapy machines, cancer patients across the 47 counties flock to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, enervating the matters.

The dire cancer situation in the country is deteriorated by the absence of human capacity to research on the cancer epidemic.

In a bid to restore sanity, the National Assembly, in 2017 passed a bill, National Cancer Control and Prevention Act 2012, with the aim of providing countrywide strategy on cancer cases.

The bill saw the introduction of National Cancer Institute of Kenya (NCI), an institute mandated to coordinate cancer activities in the country including oversight, awareness creation and cancer research among others.

National Cancer Institute of Kenya

“We have NCI in the country which is not funded or rather underfunded. It is mandated to be the one that is guiding policy and also guide policy implementation in cancer control in Kenya”, Salome Mwangi, a cancer patient says bitterly.

NCI reportedly employed only one person without physical office location. The treasury, in the national budget, remitted Kshs 10 million ($10,000) to the institute last year.

Related: World Cancer Day 2018: Team Let’sGoPink on awareness mission

Sources within the ministry of health argue that the institute, hosted within the division of non-communicable diseases, should ideally be a semi-autonomous body such as National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

Limited human capacity and increased demand for cancer services, the body cannot meet its national requirement in its current state.

Amid the widespread of the malignant disease, Kenya has only 23 oncologist and 6 cancer centres located in capital.

Kenyatta National Hospital is the only public cancer centre in the country.

Kenyatta National Hospital
The biggest Kenya’s health facility and public cancer centre: Photo / Courtesy

The centre which can handle 60 to 80 patients per day, has 3 radiotherapy machines that are vulnerable to breakages due to overburdening.

Servicing the machines, which are mostly in good condition, is a crisis since experts must be flown to fix them, a costly process for the tax payers.

“The issues with this machines is the technological support in terms of servicing them, it can be a challenge because if you have been given a machine on a donation, there is no contract to service the same machine”, laments Dr. Andrew Odhiambo, an oncologist.

Cost of cancer centre

Establishing a functioning cancer screening and treatment centre, according to a feasibility study by World Bank, requires a whooping amount between Kshs. 1.2 to 2 billion ($12-$10 million).

Although no official government was indicted following the Afya House mega scandal, where Kshs. 5 billion in the ministry of health was swindled, such substantial amount if accounted for could have witnessed the launching of more state-of-the-art cancer centres.

The burden of cancer crisis in the country prickles poor patients who must travel from their respective counties to the capital, in long queues, seeking treatment.

The cost of transport and treatment remains a double edged tragedy.

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