Kenyans are urging government to declare cancer a national disaster after several high-profile Kenyans succumbed to the disease.
According to a damning report released last week by the National Cancer Institute of Kenya (NCI-K), close to 33 000 Kenyans succumb to cancer every year. The report notes that new cases of cancer have increased from 41 000 to at least 47 887 cases annually.
According to government data, cancer is the third leading cause of deaths in Kenya, with 32 987 people succumbing to it annually.
Of this, 32 987 succumb every year, an increase from 28 500 deaths recorded previously.
“Cancer is estimated to be the third leading cause of deaths in Kenya after infectious and cardiovascular diseases. Globocan 2018 estimates show there are 47 887 new cases in Kenya daily and 32 987 deaths due to cancer annually,” notes the report.
The five most common cancers include breast, cervical, oesophageal, prostate and colorectal.
The NCI acting Chief Executive Officer, Alfred Karagu, has bemoaned the fact that the institute is understaffed and cannot carry out its mandate. He pointed out that the Institute required about 100 staff but only had six.
However, the death of senior politicians in the past few weeks due to the killer disease has put the government on the spot, with Kenyans mainly on social media saying authorities are not keen to take action to turn the tide.
Last Friday, Kibra Member of Parliament, Ken Okoth, succumbed after battling with the disease for several months. Bomet Governor, Joyce Laboso, was not spared after she succumbed to cancer on Monday, 29 July 2019.
The two have joined a growing list of prominent Kenyans who have died of the incurable disease. One prominent Kenyan was Wangari Maathai, who was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She died in 2011. Former defence minister and MP, Kiambaa Njenga Karume, died due to prostate cancer the following year.
Five years later, former Nyeri Governor, Nderitu Gachagua, was killed by pancreatic cancer. Former Kitui West MP Francis Nyenze, 60, passed away in December 2017 due to colon cancer.
More recently, former Safaricom CEO of Kenya’s largest mobile phone company, Bob Collymore, died of cancer.
Juja MP Francis Munyua, who was successfully treated for brain cancer in India early last year, shocked the country when he disclosed that 13 lawmakers are receiving chemotherapy for various cancers in India.
“So many people are suffering in silence from cancer. Nobody wants to talk about it because of the stigma,” he was quoted saying by local media.
He revealed that he met hundreds of cancer patients from Kenya alone who are receiving treatment in India.
Currently, thousands of Kenyans travel annually to India to seek treatment of cancer. Tragically, half of those diagnosed with cancer die before getting treatment due to the late detection. Cancer patients make up more than 50 percent of Kenyans seeking medical treatment overseas.
Since the 1990s, India has been celebrated as a global leader in “medical tourism”, and Kenyan patients prefer the Asian country because the treatment costs are comparatively affordable. Furthermore, the country has medical specialist as well as specialized medical equipment.
The Deputy President of Kenya, William Ruto, whose brother succumbed to cancer three years ago is on record admitting that the killer disease is a big challenge to the country and has called on Kenyans to be screened.
“It is a condition that can be managed and treated if detected early. On a regular basis, we need to be going for screening,” he said.
Despite the alarming rate in which the ravaging disease is claiming Kenyan lives, the government has said it won’t declare it a national disaster. On Tuesday, 30 July 2019, the Cabinet Secretary for health, Sicily Kariuki, warned against people reacting too emotionally to the disease.
She said solid scientific evidence needed to be compiled first before President Uhuru Kenyatta can be advised to declare the disease a national disaster.
“For us to be able to reach a point of declaring cancer a national disaster, there has to be sufficient data built over time that is scientific, solid and sound enough to back our declaration,” she pointed out.
Political leaders have been on the fore front in demanding the government to declare the disease a national disaster. For instance, members of Kericho County Assembly in Rift Valley have called on the government to declare the disease a national disaster.
The County Assembly Health committee chairman, David Mitei, told the African Press Agency on Wednesday that half of deaths in Kericho County are caused by cancer.
He said that last week alone most of the more than 20 deaths in the county were caused by the disease.
Mitei, who is also the area Member of County Assembly said statistics they have shown that cancer is the leading cause of death in the county, calling on the national government to subsidize the cost of the drugs.
“Throat cancer is rampant in the south rift, with at least three deaths daily,” he said.
However, cancer also remains an expensive disease to treat with many Kenyans unable to afford the expensive medical fees.
Sick patients pay between Ksh. 500 (five dollars)- Ksh. 1 000 (ten dollars) per session for radiotherapy in government run hospitals. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, costs Ksh. 6 000 (60 dollars) to Ksh. 600 000 (6 000 dollars) depending on the drug used.
In private hospitals, costs range from Ksh 50 000 a week for radiotherapy. For chemotherapy, the cost depends on the drug used, with most ranging from Ksh. 12 000 (120 dollars) to Ksh. 200 000 (2 000 dollars) per treatment.
Cancer diagnosis can leave a host of problems in its wake. Physical, financial, and emotional hardships often persist for years after diagnosis and treatment.
Survivors may face many challenges, such as limited access to cancer specialists and promising new treatments, inadequate or no health insurance, financial hardships, difficulty finding employment, psychosocial struggles, and a lack of understanding from family and friends.