February 22nd, 2019
Joan Mutinda, Policy Advocacy
Globally, cancer causes more deaths than HIV, TB and Malaria combined. 70% of the global Cancer burden is in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) . In Kenya, cancer is now the 3rd leading cause of deaths and second among non- communicable diseases accounting for 7% of overall mortality rate. The annual incidences are estimated to be 37,000 new cases with annual mortality rate of 28,000 (Ferlay et al 2013).
Facilities in Kenya offering cancer treatment are very few the main being Kenyatta National Hospital(KNH) in the public sector. This puts lives of thousands of cancer patients in Kenya at risk as they struggle to get treatment using the three functional radiotherapy machines at KNH. This is evident in Ms. Monica Akinyi’s case a cancer patient in Kisumu, who makes several trips to Nairobi every month for radiotherapy but the long queues are discouraging and distressing. When she first visited the hospital, she waited for five days before a doctor could attend to her. And there after joined a long queue of cancer patients waiting for their turn. In addition to making long trips to hospital, (700 kms return) she is charged Ksh3,600 per session and needs 25 to 30 sessions per month which translates to 90,000 per month (Oketch,2018). Ms. Akinyi unfortunately represents thousands of Kenyans who must travel from different parts of the country for radiotherapy services at KNH despite the government making an effort to decongest the hospital by leasing cancer machines to counties. This makes cancer treatment very costly and implies that over 90% of kenyans cannot afford cancer services even in the public hospitals. This explains the unacceptable high annual mortality rate of 28,000.
Although cancer is curable, unfortunately 70-80% of patients diagnosed with cancer in Kenya are at advanced stages with high incidence of misdiagnosis and inadequate screening hindering early detection. Case in point which represents the fate of many Kenyans is journalist Dennis Omondi who had a flu that wouldn’t just go away. After visiting several hospitals his boss referred him to a renowned hematologist at KNH. He was diagnosed with leukemia stage 4 and sadly succumbed to his illness within seven months.(Graham,2018). An- other example is honorable Kenneth Odhiambo Kibra MP who was recently diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer. His diagnosis was not easy to come by. For over a year he was put on drugs to manage stress. By the time his doctor ordered for advanced scan, he was found at stage 4 cancer. MP Odhiambo alluded cancer treatment is not easy in the country. (Graham, 2019). This represents the reality in Kenya where majority are not accessing screening services or cancer is detected very late. The Cancer Prevention and Control Act 2012 and the National Cancer control Strategy (NCCS) 2017-2022 highly prioritizes prevention, screening and early detection. Efforts to promote early presentation and faster referrals, diagnosis, and treatment need urgent intervention in all levels.
In view of the above cancer crisis in our country, it is now urgent that the NCCS 2017-2022 is rolled out, we recommend: With the cancer treatment now included in NHIF, sensitization for Kenyans to join NHIF in line with UHC; establish health promotion and prevention programs for cancer screening at level 1, 2 and 3 facilities, use community health workers in line with the community health strategy to promote cancer prevention programs and counties to operationalize cancer services (functional) at level 4 or 5 facilities.