Hope for cancer patients
Despite new cases of virtually all types of cancer rising in the country, Mrs. Elizabeth Kinyanjui, wife to Nakuru County Governor, Lee Kinyanjui, observes that there is renewed hope as statistics have confirmed that deaths from the disease have fallen dramatically in recent decades.
Launching a community outreach programme to equip the Nakuru Hospice with sufficient drugs and medical personnel to handle cancer cases, Mrs. Kinyanjui stated that due to prevention and treatment, significant progress has been achieved in fighting certain cancers, such as childhood leukemia.
The outreach programme that is being conducted in partnership with the County Government of Nakuru targets over 600,000 cancer patients spread out in Nakuru, Bomet, Kericho and Baringo Counties.
“The programme seeks to create awareness about how to prevent cancer by making available the information through publication, the media, meetings, conferences and campaigns. We are also advocating for early detection mechanisms. When detected early, cancer is 100 per cent curable,” explains Mrs. Kinyanjui.
Cancer, like diabetes and heart disease, is a non-communicable disease, which means it cannot be spread from person to person.
Non-communicable diseases have become a major health problem in developing countries, and also a matter of global concern. At the post-2015 agenda summit that was held from September 25 this year, in New York, world leaders adopted the reduction of death from non-communicable diseases by one-third by 2030 as a sustainable development target.
At the launch, Nakuru County Director of Medical Services (CDMS), Dr. Solomon Sirma regretted that most cancer patients were succumbing to the disease due to high cost of treatment, stigma and discrimination.
“We understand that the cost of treating cancer is often outside the reach of many. One of the major missions of the outreach programme is to advocate for a comprehensive and universal social health insurance that will provide access to affordable and quality cancer treatment. For now, there is restricted access to these treatments and the costs are prohibitive,” he stated.
The devolved unit, Dr. Sirma revealed, had embarked on creating a data base of patients suffering from cancer with a view of enrolling them in specialized weekly management programs at the hospice.
Cancer has become Kenya’s third highest cause of death after malaria and pneumonia. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) in its Economic Survey 2017 annual cancer related deaths have been rising steadily in the past four years from 12,574 in 2012 to the current 15,762 cases.
According to the survey, 13,720 cases were reported in 2013, while 14,175 and 15,714 cases were recorded in 2014 and 2015 respectively. During the same period, deaths from malaria, the country’s number one cause of mortality dropped from 24,772 to 16,000 cases, HIV/AIDS deaths plummeted from 11,111 to 9,471, while deaths caused by tuberculosis (TB) plunged from 10,611 to 4,375 cases.
According to Mrs. Kinyanjui, the country needs to invest more on cancer awareness.
“The main problem is in terms of awareness. We are moving slowly, but we are in the right direction. That is where we need to put the right policies. Lack of awareness is responsible for late detection of the disease by many sufferers,” she notes.
She opines that the training of more cancer health practitioners would radically improve the human capacity of treating the disease in the country, which currently has less than 15 oncologists. She further proposed that the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development considers incorporating cancer knowledge and prevention studies in the school curriculum to equip young Kenyans with skills and knowledge.
In Kenya, between 2010 and 2014, the rate of people dying from cancer increased from about 31 deaths per 100,000 people to 33 deaths per 100,000 people.
This represents an average annual increase of six per cent for the cancer death rate, which is double the population growth rate of almost three per cent annually. By 2026, at this pace, the rate of deaths from cancer will almost double to 64 cancer deaths per 100,000 people.
The study, conducted by the Institute of Economic Affairs, examined the death rate because it is useful in determining the magnitude of the disease as a public health issue and to estimate the risk of dying from the disease in Kenya.
Many in the four counties, she observed lack adequate information on diagnosis, treatment and management of various types of cancers which led to a rise in preventable deaths. Perceptions, attitudes and misplaced myths about the disease particularly in rural settings, she noted were the greatest impediment in the fight against cancer.
“With advancements in medical technology and pharmaceutical industry, we need to lobby efforts to make cancer treatment affordable and accessible just as we have managed to reduce the cost of HIV/Aids treatment,” she opined.
The governor’s spouse is optimistic that the Cancer Prevention and Control Bill 2015 will be a boost in managing the disease once assented into law.
The Bill proposes that all County governments set up cancer control and prevention committees comprising of health professionals to help manage the disease under stewardship of the National Cancer Institute.
The Committees will be mandated to conduct public awareness in prevention and control of the condition.
By Anne Mwale