DELAYED RESULTS

Labs in 38 counties can't diagnose cancer, says MoH

'It’s scandalous. There are very few labs where you can get anything beyond a stool test.'

In Summary

• Prof Nduati, who teaches at the University of Nairobi, only less than 20 pathologists work in public health facilities. At least 28,000 Kenyans are diagnosed with cancer every year.

• Dr Mary Nyangasi-Onyango, head of the National Cancer Control Programme, said they are also training health workers to have a high suspicion index for cancer so that cases are identified early for tests. 

Many labs in public hospitals cannot do culture for an infection, Prof Nduati laments.
Many labs in public hospitals cannot do culture for an infection, Prof Nduati laments.
Image: File

Only nine counties have laboratories that can analyse samples for cancer diagnosis, the Ministry of Health says.

The lack of such infrastructure is being blamed for delayed results and the current high costs of obtaining tests.

Paediatrician Ruth Nduati said most laboratories in public hospitals are broken and could be the missing link in the cancer war.

“It’s scandalous. There are very few labs you can get anything beyond a haemogram and stool for a cyst test. Even culture for an infection, most labs including county hospitals cannot do it,” Prof Nduati said during a forum on childhood cancers, organised by the Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance-Kenya.

In Kenya, most biopsy results for cancer are obtained after 10 days even though the same can be done in three days.

Prof Nduati, who teaches at the University of Nairobi, also noted only less than 20 pathologists work in public health facilities. At least 28,000 Kenyans are diagnosed with cancer every year.

“At the last count, they were like 16 or so. We have 47 counties and we don’t have pathologists. This means even if you have a sample that’s taken, if it’s not looked at by a trained person you won’t make a diagnosis or you will make a wrong diagnosis and the wrong treatment will be given,” she said.

Nduati said training in pathology takes about five years but counties are still reluctant to allow medics time off to further studies.

“Our hospitals do not have the capacity to make timely diagnoses. These gaps aren’t just for children's cancer but also for adults. We need to be deliberate in building our capacity,” she said during the online forum to address the growing burden on children's cancers.

When doctors suspect cancer, they can order blood, urine, other bodily fluids, or tissue tests to identify abnormal cells or tumour markers that may determine whether a person has the disease or a precancerous condition.

Dr Mary Nyangasi-Onyango, head of the National Cancer Control Programme at the Ministry of Health, said only nine counties have the capacity to do lab cancer tests.

“So far only nine counties can do cancer diagnosis. We want to increase to 47. There no reason why county hospitals can’t do cancer diagnosis,” she said.

“We are working with counties on the importance of employing proper people.”

She said they are also training health workers to have a high suspicion index for cancer so that cases are identified early for tests. 

She said the second cancer control strategy envisions that every county must have a laboratory that can test for cancer.

Dr Nyangasi said the ministry has set up a functional national cancer reference lab that’s specifically at cancer diagnosis.

“We have equipped it and right now it's conducting Human papillomavirus (HPV) tests, cytopathology, histopathology and it's conducting these tests. In the long run, it will provide flow cytometry, which isn’t available in Kenya,” she said.

“This lab will be supporting county labs. Every county referral hospital should have a cancer lab. So this lab will support counties to establish cancer histology labs."