• Few companies produce the drugs for thyroid disorder and nearly all are imported
The thyroid is a small gland responsible for producing hormones that play a crucial role in many of the body’s systems — from cells and tissues to organs like the heart, brain, liver and kidneys.
Dysfunction occurs when the thyroid produces either too much or too little thyroid hormone. Either can disrupt the healthy functioning of vital organs, leading to a wide range of symptoms.
For overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), Dr Bernard Gituma, a specialist physician, says it tends to accelerate the body’s metabolism, causing an intentional weight loss and a rapid or irregular heartbeat.
The symptoms include hand tremors, sweating, increased sensitivity to heat, nervousness anxiety, irritability and palpitations. Doctors may use anti-thyroid drugs and radioactive iodine to slow the production of thyroid hormones. Sometimes, treatment involves surgery to remove all or a part of thyroid gland.
For under-active thyroid disorder (hypothyroidism), a patient will experience symptoms like weight gain, increased sensitivity to cold, muscle weakness, fatigue, slowed heart rate, depression and loss of hair.
Patients are feeling the heat due to the high cost of treatment. Dr Gituma says the fact that the medication used to treat the condition is not manufactured locally makes it expensive.
“We have few companies producing the drugs for thyroid disorder, and nearly all the drugs are imported. Also, for one to undergo a laboratory thyroid function test, it requires special equipment,” he said.
On average, a month’s anti-thyroid dose will cost a patient between Sh3,000 and Sh6,000, depending on the amount of dosage one is taking.
For every visit, a patient has to do a thyroid function test, which on average will cost Sh4,500-Sh7,000.
A patient will have to part with Sh3,000 to Sh6,000 as consultation fees to see a specialist doctor, depending on which hospital they visit.
Treatment is not available in regular hospitals; one has to go to a referral hospital. Moreover, the NHIF card does not cover the treatment of this disorder.
Gituma called on the government to increase public awareness on thyroid diseases. “Many people have the condition but are not aware. Healthcare providers should also be trained,” he said.
He said if the condition is not treated, it can be fatal, as cases of patients entering a coma, getting stroke and thyroid storm have been reported.
Thyroid storm is a life-threatening health condition that is associated with untreated or under-treated overactive thyroid.
During thyroid storm, an individual’s heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature can soar to a dangerously high level.
Sarah Katule, founder at Thyroid Diseases Awareness Kenya, has also echoed the importance of empowering people to get information so they can know what the disease is all about.
“Thyroid disease remains to be a very foreign condition in Kenya, and many people are suffering silently, not even knowing that they have it,” she said.
Katule, a mother of one and a survivor of the disease, said lack of knowledge and unawareness from the patient has caused some doctors to take it upon themselves to treat thyroid diseases without the right expertise.
She says she started the foundation in 2017 after she lost a close friend to thyroid disease.
“I lost a friend in 2014 due to thyroid storm and it hurt me a lot because having gone through the same condition, I should have been able to advise the family to consider checking on her thyroid function test but I did not, which hurts me to date,” she said amid tears.
She said because of that and the pain she has faced in her battle with overactive thyroid, she decided to begin the journey of creating awareness.
Katule said thyroid disease patients need to be understood as the condition drains one emotionally.
“Thyroid disease is an energy drainer. The thyroid hormone controls the rate of many activities, including how fast you think, the heart rate and, therefore, it needs so much understanding from especially home and work,” she said.