The Cancer Burden in Kenya

//The Cancer Burden in Kenya

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.


  • I am a Medical Bio-technologist and in as much as we place blame on these diseases for flushing our populations, we as people, authorities, ministries and government have failed the better part of this whole dire.
    Talking professionally as a medical health researcher, I feel that the Government has failed to recognize the current and cheaper technologies that have been launched in line of Oncology and Virology.
    I think Kenya should start investing in Medical Biotechnology and value what this technology has to offer in the medical sector.
    Biotech Referral Labs should be constructed in Hospitals to facilitate use of molecular diagnostics technologies.
    Liquid Biopsy, a biotech technique, is one of the most accurate cancer screening test that can be used to detect the probability of one developing a certain type of cancer at the earliest stage possible.
    Biotech Companies such as Magbio Genomics Inc. (USA) have developed systems such as.
    1. Blood CTC vacutainer tube; a tube that aids in collection, transport and stabilization of Circulating tumor cells for more than 6 days at room temperature.
    2. OncoPanel molecular Kit: GENseq oncopanel consists of 17,121 probes, spanning 2MB of human genome for enrichment cancer coding sequences of 547 genes.

    peter 11.06.2019
  • Thanks for sharing

    Njuguna 11.07.2019
  • awesome piece.

    mathew 08.10.2019
  • Awesome information.Thank you.

    mathew 08.10.2019

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