Health: The Politics Of Cancer


Cancer is the third highest cause of death in Kenya. You would think that this would make it an issue of political concern but the politicians are not talking about it and what needs to be done.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the world with approximately 8.8 million people have been reported to have died in 2015 alone. According to WHO, the number of new cases of cancer is expected to rise by about 70 per cent in the next 2 decades. Late-stage presentation and inaccessible diagnosis of the deadly disease are a common phenomenon in most countries especially developing ones. In 2015, for instance, 35 per cent of low-income countries reported having pathology services generally available in the public sector. More than 90 per cent of developed countries reported having installed treatments services for cancer in public facilities as compared to less than 30 per cent in low-income countries.

In Kenya, cancer is the third highest cause of death and often those who suffer from it cannot afford treatment. Even with the deadly statistics, the treatment of cancer has not been given the attention it deserves in Kenya. Patients have been left to suffer in silence with those diagnosed being left to face their ‘death sentence’ with no one to help them. The most affected by the cancer menace are from low-income households who entirely depend on public facilities for medication. Unfortunately, the public health in Kenya is itself ailing and in a pathetic state.

For years, Kenyatta National Hospital has remained the sole public facility being used to diagnose and treat cancer patients in the country. Serving more than 40 million Kenyans, the hospital used to have only one cancer machine, which at some point broke down, leaving thousands frustrated and with no hope of living on. The waiting period used to be three months but that has since been reduced to one month after the installation of a new cancer machine from India with statistics showing that more than 37,000 cases of cancer are reported every year in Kenya.

Many Kenyans who can afford medication outside the country have been flying to India for further treatment. In 2016, thousands of Kenyan cancer patients travelled to India for specialized treatment. According to available data, in 2016 alone, Kenyans who travelled to India for treatment spent 10 billion shillings. This was also acknowledged by President Uhuru Kenyatta when he visited India and thanked the Indian government for help in treating thousands of cancer Kenyan patients as well as over 10,000 others who fly to the country in search of medication.

The sad thing is that the issue has been politicized. Last year, the national government had plans to lease out specialized medical equipment to every county. The equipment according to President Uhuru Kenyatta was meant to help Kenyans get specialized treatment close to them and not having to travel to Nairobi in search of the same. Most County Governors opposed the plan and even refused to sign for the equipment to be delivered to their counties.

As politics rage on about issues concerning cancer in Kenya, what are some of the major challenges patients are going through?

One of the major challenges facing cancer patients is that of finance. Cancer diagnosis and treatment is very expensive, keeping most patients from poor families from accessing both diagnosis and treatment. You will find that a lot of harambees right now are for raising money for cancer treatment, money that could be used for other things. Cancer care is devastating to families, as it usually destabilizes the family’s finances to take care of treatments. One good thing is that NHIF has stepped in to provide some coverage for treatment but it is not enough.

Inadequate facilities to take care of cancer patients in Kenya. Kenya National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital are the only public hospitals giving treatment to cancer patients in Kenya. The institutions are overwhelmed by the number of patients. Other facilities are private facilities and are extremely expensive for poor households.

Inadequate information about cancer. Most Kenyans are misinformed about cancer. Some think that the disease only affects the upper classes. The truth is that the disease cuts across all the social classes, affecting both the poor and the rich. This ignorance has led to most cases being diagnosed when it is too late, mostly at stage three of the disease.

What should the government do to save Kenyans from suffering?

  • Reduce the cost of diagnosing and treating cancer in Kenya
  • Invest in both machinery and human to cater for an increasing number of cancer patients.
  • Train more personnel in the handling of cancer cases and patients.
  • Increase sensitization about cancer. This can be done through awareness campaigns.

Health: Challenges Faced By Cancer Patients And Their Families

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