Only 2% of Kenya's hospitals can handle third most prevalent cancer - Report

In Summary

• There is also a shortage of staff.

The majority of hospitals are able to manage cases of cervical and breast cancer better than colorectal cancer.
The majority of hospitals are able to manage cases of cervical and breast cancer better than colorectal cancer.
Image: COURTESY

The capability of Kenya’s health facilities to combat rising cases of cancer has come under sharp focus, with a report exposing gaps in the country’s hospitals. 

A report by the National Cancer Institute of Kenya paints a gloomy picture of the ability and preparedness of hospitals across the country to prevent and manage cancer.

According to the submission by NCI Chief Executive Officer Andrew Karagu controlling the five most prevalent cancers in the country still remains a challenge to the majority of health facilities across the 47 counties.

For instance, the report tabled before the Health committee of the National Assembly indicates that only two percent of the public health facilities can handle colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the third among most prevalent cancer cases in Nairobi with 10.3 per cent rate. In the case of prostate cancer - which alongside esophagus cancer is the most common male cancer Kenyan – it can only be handled in seven percent of the health facilities. 

The management of cervical and breast cancer among women is better in majority of hospitals which are able to detect and manage them as opposed to other types of cancer. 

According to Karagu, 20 per cent of the health facilities have enough services to control breast cancer while 22 per cent of public hospitals are equipped to handle cervical cancer. Despite the fact that most hospitals are able to control cervical cancer and screening done at no charge, NCI report indicates that a paltry 11 per cent of the national women's population has ever been screened. The report did not however identify specific hospitals capable of managing the five most prevalent types of cancer. 

Apart from the incapability of health facilities to control cancer, Karagu also pointed to a serious human personnel challenge that exists in almost all public health facilities. 

“There is a shortage of specialised personnel to provide oncology care including oncologists, medical physicists, oncology nurses and pharmacists. There is an urgent need to leapfrog training to match the patient, clinician ration,” Karagu said. 

“There is also limited capacity at the county level hospitals to conduct pathological diagnosis of cancer cases due to few numbers of pathologists and lack of appropriate infrastructure.” 

To remedy the already bad situation, President Uhuru Kenyatta during the memorial service for late Bomet governor Joyce Laboso last week gave out a detailed plan his government has put in place to combat cancer scourge in the country. 

Noting cancer had become a menace in the country, Uhuru announced that the national government will increase the funds set towards cancer treatment. The budgetary increase is meant to scale up both preventative and curative cancer management services across the country. 

He also said the ongoing construction of a chemotherapy centre at Longisa referral hospital in Bomet will be open by September. 

Radiology machines in the existing health facilities,he stated will also be increased. 

He also announced plans to set up 10 more chemotherapy centres across the country and also train staff to operate the machines. The centers will be established in Mombasa, Kisumu, Kakamega, Garissa, Nyeri, Nakuru, Meru and Machakos among other counties. 

The President, however, told Kenyans to be mindful of the food they consume, saying cancer was all about lifestyle. 

“We will add three more radiology centres across the country. We will have one in Garissa, another one in Mombasa and the third one in Nakuru,” Uhuru said. 

Uhuru further directed that Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) in Eldoret be upgraded to become a centre of excellence for cancer treatment and training for upcoming medical professionals in oncology so that they can help in the fight against the disease.

 “The ultra-modern Kenyatta University Hospital will be opened next month. This also will have a facility for treating cancer. We will add two more centres of excellence for the treatment of cancer – one in Kisii and another one in Nyeri which will be ready by next year,” he said. 

To help in shortage of specialised personnel, the President said 20 cancer doctors are currently undergoing training, 28 clinical officers and 31 radiologists.