NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 21 – The government has once again been urged to start collecting data on cancer patients countrywide for proper planning.
Associate Professor at the Department of Medicine at Aga Khan University Hospital Alice Musibi decried the lack of specific data on cancers noting that the available statistics at the cancer registry were mainly those collected in Nairobi.
Musibi who is also a Medical Oncologist said this had seen many cases of cancer being missed out because not everybody came to seek treatment in Nairobi.
“In everything including your house, you have to know how many children you have, how many visitors you think you might get in a week so that by the time you are doing shopping you have a rough idea of who you are catering for. Right now even by the time we were doing the policies (cancer) we were being asked how many people we are talking about so that we actually have a fore plan,” she told Capital FM News.
She said there was no way the government could take appropriate measures without proper statistics.
“Compared with what we see in the West, our cancers especially for the breast are in very young women, majority of the women who have been diagnosed now are below 50 years which is not very good because that is the most productive age,” she stated.
An article published in Global Medicine in 2011 showed that the incidence of cancer in Kenya was on the rise with over 82,000 new cases reported annually.
Cancer ranks third among the main causes of death in Kenya after infectious and heart related diseases. It also accounts for 18,000 deaths annually.
At the same time, Musibi urged Kenyans to ensure they undergo regular screening of the various cancers for early identification and treatment.
She said it was unfortunate, for instance, when many women suffer or die of cervical cancer whereas it takes up to ten years to develop from the first possible infection with the HPV virus that causes it.
“Because it is predictable, you can intervene when the cancer is still early. So we recommend regular pap smears or what we are now trying to incorporate- visual inspection of the cervix which can lead to treatment at the same sitting and this does not need specialists – it is being done even by nurses because they have received training,” she advised.
She added that the health system needed to be strengthened so that even when one is diagnosed with cancer, they can immediately access the available treatment.
“Remove the myths of witchcraft because again that keeps many people away from conventional health system, remove them away from the herbalist, then after that they can make their choices but we shall say as a nation, as health professionals we told them and we might move a little closer to having a healthier nation as far as cancer is concerned,” she remarked.
Cancer is rapidly becoming a major epidemic in Kenya often leading to death due to expensive treatment and lack of a proper health system.
A week ago, Parliament passed the Cancer Bill which is seen as a milestone in tackling cancers at policy level.
A policy brief on the situational analysis of cancer in Kenya done in 2011 by the department of research, an arm of the Parliamentary Service Commission cites inadequate facilities, few specialists- only three oncologists and four radiation oncologists, high cost of treatment, lack of accessibility to treatment, sedentary lifestyle, lack of cancer awareness, social inequity and unreliable cancer registry as the factors that were backtracking the fight against cancer in Kenya.
It says the most common type of cancers in Kenya are breast and cervical for women while men are more affected by the cancer of the oesophagus, neck and prostate.
In children, the commonest are blood cancers-Leukemia and Lymphomas.