Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Kenya and Cancer

In Kenya, cancer treatment is becoming increasingly expensive. Few private hospitals are equipped to provide treatment, which makes it possible for those that are to charge higher rates. According to the Ministry of Health, there are 40,000 new cases of cancer reported annually in the country. Another 27,000 patients succumb to the disease each year. From 2011 to 2014, cancer deaths rose by 23 percent, up from 17 percent in 2010.

According to Faraja Cancer Support, an NGO that works with cancer patients, "the average cost of treatment ranges from $1,600 to $5,000, which is way beyond the reach of many Kenyans". Even the $5 cost of one radiotherapy session at the public hospital can be prohibitively expensive for poor Kenyans who live on a dollar or less a day. Private hospitals can charge around $300, about 60 times more for a single radiotherapy session.

Machines such as the positron emission tomography-magnetic resonance-imaging scanner can be critical to detecting cancer. But such technology is unavailable in Kenya because it uses radiation, and the country does not have laws and mechanisms in place to enable the safe handling of radioactive isotopes. Kenyatta National Hospital is the largest referral hospital not only in Kenya but in East and Central Africa. It is also the only public cancer treatment facility in the country. But it is poorly equipped and over-stretched. In March 2015, hundreds of cancer patients were unable to proceed with their scheduled cancer treatment when the two radiotherapy machines at KNH broke down. When the radiotherapy machines broke down again last September, Fatuma Hamisi, who had travelled to Nairobi from Kwale, about 500km away, was forced to reschedule her appointment for months later. The machines in question have been in use for 20 years, treating up to 100 patients a day - instead of the recommended limit of 50. Cancer victims from all over the country flood the facility to get cheap radiotherapy sessions. But they can sometimes wait almost a year for an appointment.

Dr Catherine Nyongesa, a Kenyan cancer specialist, explainsthe importance of prompt treatment: "Cancer treatment for patients should start as soon as possible. If delayed, it matures from a curable stage to an incurable one, hence making it more painful and expensive to deal with. The main cause [of delays] is a lack of financial support."

Cancer drugs are also expensive since they are not subsidised. Those Kenyans who can afford it often go outside the country for their cancer treatment. According to the country's health ministry, each year 10,000 Kenyans are treated elsewhere - mainly in India and South Africa, which both have more advanced medical facilities. These patients are thought to spend a total of $108m on treatment abroad. One thing you can be sure of, you receive better treatment if you are rich. 

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