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Kenya struggle to treat cancer surge (PHOTO REUTERS)

Article by Winnie Kabintie

The cancer crisis in the country has been an issue of concern for a long time and I think it’s about time the government steps up and urgently for that matter to control the situation before it gets completely out of hand.

Early this year, in an article titled, THE DIRE CANCER CRISIS IN KENYA, the Kenya Forum highlighted the plight of cancer patients in Kenya, who are forced to contend with inaccessible medical attention due to inadequate facilities in the public health sector.

In the same month, The Daily Nation Newspaper in an article by Pauline Kairu, also brought to the fore the cancer catastrophe in the country, revealing that dozens of desperate cancer patients from across the nation flock the waiting room of the cancer unit in Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), hoping for a chance to get medical attention, yet majority will never get a chance to go through radiotherapy as patients can wait up to one year for their turn, simply because the strained facilities at the hospital.

KNH is the only public health facility offering radiotherapy in the country and dozens of patients from all the 47 counties flock the hospital seeking treatment. In January, medics at the hospital said that the facility, which only has two oncology machines, was totally strained and even revealed that even they could only handle 30 per cent of all the patients needing treatment at the moment with the rest (more than 1,000) being forced to wait until 2016.

It’s a known fact that if detected early 30% of cancer is curable, while 30% of cancers are treatable with prolonged survival. Sadly for most cancer patients who can only afford treatment in KNH, their hope is grim because  with one being forced to wait in line for a whole year, by the time they are scheduled for radiotherapy, the disease will be at an advanced stage.


As if that was not bad enough, KNH suspended radiotherapy treatment at the facility on Monday after the two RT machines broke down due to overworking. One machine is designated to handle between 8 to 10 patients a day but was handling up to 150 patients due to the overwhelming number of patients in need of treatment.

With the other three out of the four radiation centers in the country being in private hospitals, which charge between Sh5, 000 and Sh10, 000 per session, they remain out of reach to majority of patients.

Health secretary James Macharia announced that the government was in talks with Aga Khan and MP Shah Hospitals to treat cancer patients at subsidized rates following the breakdown of radiotherapy machines at KNH.

Nairobi Hospital has reportedly agreed to offer radiotherapy treatment to 50 patients each week for free.

Cancer is now the number three cause of death in Kenya; after infectious and cardiovascular diseases but doctors at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) say that the disease is the number one killer at the facility.


According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO), the number of new cases will approximately rise by about 70 per cent over the next two decades and that can only mean that going by the current situation, the cancer crisis in Kenya will only get worse.

Government statistics indicate an increase in deaths from cancer recently, climbing from 11,995 in 2010 to 12,574 in 2012 and 13,720 in 2013.

Plans have been “underway” for the longest time to establish a Cancer Centre in KNH that will accommodate more radiotherapy machines but four years down the line, Kenyans are still waiting.

In addition, Sh 500 per session for RT is also not affordable for majority of Kenyans seeking treatment in public hospitals considering that even the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), mainly the medical cover that most citizens can at least afford, does not cover for this as radiotherapy is categorized under outpatient services. The cost should therefore be subsidized in the near future so that it can be more affordable to the ordinary citizens whose unemployment rate stands at above 40 per cent.

The Health sector has suffered a myriad of challenges and especially with devolution and it’s about time the government puts its priorities in order.


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