Source: Africa News
Posted on Thursday 19 July 2012 – 09:32
Joyce J Wangui, AfricaNews reporter in Nairobi, Kenya
enyans are slowly coming into grips with cancer, a deadly disease that many perceived to be for the west and the rich. Though statistics remain scanty, Pact Kenya Cancer Assessment estimates that 50 people die every day from different forms of cancer while 80,000 new diagnoses are done each year.
Such figures are scary, given the fact that the country has limited facilities to diagnose and treat the disease.
Kenyans awoke to the sad news of the demise of Alexandra Ajoy, who until her untimely death was the youngest survivor of Leukemia-the cancer of blood. The 4 year old has been diagnosed with the deadly cancer at the age of 2. Her condition required a bone marrow transplant which could only take place in India since Kenya has no facilities to treat her case.
If successful, Baby Lexie, as she is fondly known by her family, could have had a new lease of life. Due to the prohibitive costs, her family solicited for financial support via social media and she successfully underwent the procedure. However, she only had 10% chances of survival. Misfortune reared its ugly head when little Lexis suffered organ rejection and she had to be again transferred for stem cell transplant in the United States.
Until her death, she had endured insurmountable pain which only her family can relate to. She had also been under heavy medication. Baby Lexie came into the public fore during the launch of the Africa Cancer Foundation in July last year, an NGO that supports the fight against cancer in Africa. Her condition prompted Kenyans to realize that cancer does not chose age, contrary perceived as the disease of the elderly.
From time to time, the local media had featured her progress as well as challenges. Hers is not an isolated case. A visit to the IE Ward at Kenyatta National Hospital confirms the harsh reality of children suffering from different forms of cancer. Some have stayed in the cancer unit for so long that they call it home.
The minister of Medical services Prof. Anyang Nyong, himself a prostate cancer survivor and a fiery cancer activist notes that Kenya has recorded significant progress in the treatment and care of cancer patients due to the opening and expansion of several cancer centers in hospitals. But the largest government hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital still uses two outdated machines to diagnose cancer, namely Cobalt-60.
The two are only limited for therapeutic radiotherapy, meaning that patients who require chemotherapy are locked out or are forced to seek medication from private hospitals, which are by far, very expensive.
With the list of cancer patients swelling by the day, the country has to grapple with yet another challenge-the few number of specialists for cancer surgery. In most cases, the few accredited specialist surgeons are overwhelmed by the workload, particularly in the government hospital and so patients are left under the care of general surgeons who operate on a broad range of diseases.
This, according to medical specialists in the private sector, means that cancer patients are not afforded the opportunity to get quality care.
The growing cases of cancer in Kenya are worrying. The magnitude of the disease brings with it physical, emotional, spiritual and financial trauma to the infected and the affected. According to David Makumi, Manager, Cancer Program – Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi and Vice Chairman, Kenya Cancer Association, most cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage (level4), making it difficult to save the life of patients.
“It is regrettable that Kenyans are dying of cancers which can be treated, if diagnosed early,” he says, referring to cervical cancer which he says can be detected as early as a woman is in her teens. “Its progression in the cells takes long and can be tamed at early stages, but Kenyan women are shying away from early screening.”
Makumi, also the President of the Kenya Cancer Association (KENCASA) says that another factor hampering the management of the disease is the fact that many people don’t have insurance.
“Treatment is quite expensive. Many families watch as their loved ones die in pain. The disease gets to a stage where managing pain is the most critical aspect to allow patients die in dignity.”
At the government hospital, Radiotherapy treatment for cancer for six weeks cost Sh9,000 while chemotherapy cost Sh4,000, a cost which is far much less than in private hospitals. Only a paltry number of Kenyans afford medication in private hospitals while the more advantaged lot seek treatment abroad.
Kenyans in general want a comprehensive cancer policy which will address among other things, an effective drug regulatory authority that ensures that patients get the most effective treatments. The government should also ensure that it regulates the costs of treating cancer.
Francis Kariuki, a prostate cancer survivor wants the government to hasten nationwide campaigns on information surrounding the scourge, “This will help early mitigation and also create awareness,” he says.
The country has made significant progress in managing cancer. The adoption of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, 2010, was a milestone step in mitigating the disease.
The Act aims to restrain the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the country as experts say alcohol is a major risk factor for cancers of the mouth and throat.
The anti-tobacco Bill has enabled Kenyans to limit on smoking as they are now aware that smoking accounts for almost 30% of all cancer-related deaths, worldwide. It causes lung cancer.
The current campaigns aired on television are also a wake up call for Kenyans to adapt a healthy lifestyle and avoid sedentary lifestyles. This includes consuming healthy foods, frequent exercises and limiting on alcohol and smoking.