GAME-CHANGER?

10 new cancer centres opened, more coming up

Three radiotherapy centres are currently under construction in Mombasa, Nakuru and Garissa to be completed by May 2020, says CS Kariuki said.

In Summary

• The chemo facilities were opened separately late last year, with Longisa Referral Hospital in Bomet being the latest, Health Cabinet Sicily Kariuki says. 

• NCD Alliance vice-chair David Makumi said this could be a game-changer for cancer treatment in Kenya. 

An oncology pharmacist at the drugs mixing hood of the Embu Teaching and Referral Hospital,explains the process to Governor Martin Wambora when he launched the hospital's cancer centre in August.
CANCER TREATMENT: An oncology pharmacist at the drugs mixing hood of the Embu Teaching and Referral Hospital,explains the process to Governor Martin Wambora when he launched the hospital's cancer centre in August.
Image: REUBEN GITHINJI

Kenyans can now access chemotherapy services in 10 new centres across the country.

The facilities were opened separately late last year, with Longisa Referral Hospital in Bomet being the latest, Health Cabinet Sicily Kariuki says.

Before that, Kenyatta National and Moi Teaching and Referral hospitals were the only public facilities offering cancer treatment.

"We have set up 10 chemotherapy centres across the country in Mombasa, Garissa, Nakuru, Kisumu, Kakamega, Longisa, Machakos, Embu, Nyeri and Embu, in addition to three centres of excellence at KNH, MTRH and KUTRH," Kariuki told the Star.

The 10 centres, built by the county governments with technical support from the ministry, had been promised by President Uhuru Kenyatta last year.

Most cancer patients are treated through chemotherapy, combined with radiation therapy and surgery to remove tumours. Chemotherapy uses chemicals to destroy cancer cells to keep them from growing, dividing or making more cells.

The ministry says three new radiotherapy centres will be ready by May. Currently, KNH and KU Hospital are the only public facilities equipped with radiotherapy machines. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.

"Three radiotherapy centres are currently under construction in Mombasa, Nakuru and Garissa to be completed by May 2020," CS Kariuki said.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that 47,887 Kenyans are diagnosed with cancer every year and 32,987 patients die annually. The National Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance, a local lobby that promotes action against NCDs, confirmed the 10 new chemotherapy centres are operational. 

NCD Alliance vice chairperson David Makumi said this could be a game-changer for Kenya. He urged the Council of Governors to incentivise the private sector to set up radiotherapy centres outside Nairobi.

Makumi said Kenya has about 10 high-tech radiotherapy machines concentrated within a 10-kilometre radius in Nairobi.  "The counties can provide land, tax breaks and issue licences to attract these investments," he said. 

He said the private radiotherapy machines in Nairobi have a 30 per cent under-utilisation rate, which could be lower if they were redistributed across the country, or if they served patients from public hospitals at lower prices.

Most cancer patients come from Nairobi, Kisumu, Meru, Mombasa, Kakamega, Kiambu, Nyeri, Nakuru, Bomet, Embu and Eldoret, according to the cancer institute.

Makumi urged the National Hospital Insurance Fund to help lower the cost of treating cancer. He proposed the fund should set a ceiling on rebates for chemotherapy treatment, especially in private facilities. 

"NHIF holds the stick and the carrot," he said, noting that costs should go down because drugs are procured in bulk through the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency.

Cancer is the third leading cause of death in Kenya, contributing to seven per cent of all deaths. By August last year, the country had at least 35 qualified oncologists and 20 others under training. At that time, there were 35 oncology nurses and 10 clinicians trained in cancer management.