Should cancer be declared a national disaster?

May 18, 2016 1:08 pm
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Dr Geoffrey Mutuma, a cancer specialist and a doctor at Zambezi Hospital feels that declaring cancer a national disaster like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis will greatly improve the country's response to the killer disease/CFM NEWS
Dr Geoffrey Mutuma, a cancer specialist and a doctor at Zambezi Hospital feels that declaring cancer a national disaster like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis will greatly improve the country’s response to the killer disease/CFM NEWS

, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 18 – It’s one of the appointment days when patients throng a cancer centre in Nairobi to hear about progress of their ailment.

Some are on wheelchairs, others look just fine and healthy while others look like people who have despaired in life.

Each of the patients has a different story to tell about the racking journey with cancer.

One case that broke my heart is of a woman in her 70s.

As early as 8am she was in the queue waiting for the crucial cancer tests.

But on being told one test would cost Sh13,000 she asked… “Sh1,300 or what are you talking about?”

“I will go home and wait for God to take me,” the woman who had travelled from Wote in Machakos murmured as she walked away in despair.

“It’s not even the treatment, it’s only a test and you are asking for Sh13,000?”

The case of the woman is the sad reality of the emotional, physical and financial struggles that most cancer patients in Kenya undergo from the moment they are diagnosed with the ailment.

They travel from far and wide to seek cancer services in Nairobi.

Some of them have used every little saving they had.

They have borrowed money from friends, relatives and even exhausted Harambee meetings to help them raise money for their treatment.

In the end, some discontinue the treatment and end up dying.

Whereas efforts have been made to expand cancer centres to Kisumu, Eldoret, Meru, Mombasa and Nyeri, the technical and human capacity is deficient.

Cancer also remains an expensive disease to treat.

Dr Eliud Njuguna, Head of Cancer Treatment Centre at Kenyatta National Hospital is one of the few oncologists in the country.

He has also been at the forefront leading reforms intended to reduce the burden of cancer in Kenya.

“With the current trends actually cancer is a global disaster. Cancer is climbing a little bit higher than it has always been.”

KNH alone receives between 60 and 100 new cancer patients every week.

According to Dr Njuguna, the country cumulatively records about 150 cancer cases per week.

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