, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 4 – About 50 people die every day from various forms of cancers in Kenya, according to government statistics released on Thursday as the Kenya marked World Cancer Day.
Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) Chief Executive Officer Dr Jotham Micheni said that about 80,000 cases of cancer were diagnosed in Kenya annually.
Unfortunately, all these patients can only access the required treatment at KNH which is the largest referral hospital in East and Central Africa.
“We have very few specialists in oncology and therefore human resource for health in terms of cancer is definitely a major challenge,” Dr Micheni said adding that there were only four medical oncologists (cancer specialists) and another four Radio-Oncologists (doctors who prescribe radiotherapy).
Dr Micheni said these eight cancer specialists were concentrated in Nairobi and only one was specialised for children. He said this could be as a result of the high cost of training (between Sh7 million and Sh10 million) with the only country offering the course in the continent being South Africa.
He said the shortage of oncologists and treatment centres had posed a major challenge in cancer treatment because not all patients could get to KNH due to economic reasons. He added that there was need for creation of more cancer treatment centres.
“There are no cancer registries in the country and hence the actual burden of cancer is unclear. Very little research has been going on in the area of cancer,” he said.
The doctor said about 4,000 patients were diagnosed with cancer at KNH annually most of whom were detected at the late stages because of lack of information.
The most common cancers in both men and women are those of the oesophagus, prostrate, breast and cervical cancer.
“Our people are going for substandard care and at the end of it all they are referred to KNH as a last result so instead of us translating our care into good clinical outcomes, we have a very high mortality and morbidity rate.”
Public Health Assistant Minister Dr James Gesami said cancer was not given much attention because it was a non-communicable disease.
“There are political diseases and non-political ones. Much emphasis is put on disease like HIV/AIDS because it spreads from one individual to another,” Dr Gesami said.
“Cancer is an individual disease that is not transmitted from one person to another so it is not considered high risk,” he added.
The Assistant Minister blamed tobacco use for the high rise of cancer cases.
“Tobacco use is the single most important risk factor for cancer – not only lung cancer but other cancers as well,” he said. “I wish to send a clear message to relevant ministries to participate more in the control and management of cancer in our country. Their support should include increase in taxation on tobacco products so that they cannot be affordable to everybody.”
He said 18,000 people died annually in Kenya from cancer related ailments, 60 percent of whom were within their productive lives.
World Health Organisation Kenya representative Dr David Okello said tobacco contributes to 30 percent of cancer deaths worldwide.
A statement from the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Medical Services Professor James ole Kiyiapi stated that expansion of cancer treatment services at Kisumu Provincial Hospital, Coast General and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospitals in Eldoret as regional cancer centres were ongoing.