The government has enhanced public funded cancer treatment services through the establishment of more than 10 county chemotherapy centers and three regional comprehensive cancer treatment centres spread across the country.
Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Susan Nakhumicha said that the cancer treatment centres are in Mombasa, Nakuru, Garissa and the center of excellence in oncology at the Kenyatta University Teaching Referral and Research Hospital where cutting-edge technologies such as molecular imaging and cyber knife treatment have been made available for all Kenyans.
The CS said that the new administration, through the Kenya Kwanza Health Plan, has envisioned a chronic disease fund that will further bolster the financing for cancer interventions and stem the capital flight due to medical tourism for cancer services.
Speaking on Thursday during the official opening of the National Cancer Summit 2023, Nakhumicha said that cancer remains a major public health concern in Kenya since it is the third leading cause of death adding that in 2020, the country reported 42,000 new cancer cases and 27,000 cancer-related deaths.
“The top five cancers are those of the breast, cervix, prostate, oesophagus and non – hodgkins lymphoma. These cancers account for nearly half (48%) of the cancer burden in the country,” explained the CS.
She noted that nine women die every day due to cervical cancer while nine in every 10 persons with esophageal cancer will succumb to the disease. Currently, the majority of persons diagnosed with cancer will succumb to the disease since approximately 70% of cases are diagnosed in advanced stages when cure is almost impossible.
“Cancer bears an immense cost to the nation due to the years of life lost as a result of premature deaths, lost productivity and the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment on the quality of life of survivors. In addition, families suffer financial catastrophe as a result of the high costs associated with accessing comprehensive cancer care services,” she said.
The CS said that in recognition of the need for concerted efforts to address the rising disease burden, the Ministry of Health has put in place an elaborate legal and policy framework to guide appropriate cancer control interventions.
“It is against this background that the National Cancer Institute of Kenya (NCI Kenya) was established under the Cancer Prevention and Control Act (No. 15 of 2012) with a mandate to provide oversight and regulation of cancer prevention and control of the country. I am pleased to note that the Institute is taking the lead in coordinating our joint efforts to mount an effective response to the growing cancer burden in Kenya and call upon all stakeholders to support them in this noble task,” she said.
The CS highlighted that the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) program has identified cancer as a priority focus area to accelerate the access to care services with reduced financial burden.
“In this regard, we have continued to strengthen our primary health care services to offer affordable cancer screening and early detection services that are critical to early cancer diagnosis,” said Nakhumicha.
The CS said that through collaborations with County Governments, they have enhanced access to cancer screening through training of primary health workers and distribution of screening equipment to health facilities across the country.
“Despite making these great strides, opportunities for improvement remain front and centre. Gaps related to responsive financing models, control of risk factors, adequate human resources, infrastructure and commodities, and appropriate engagement of all stakeholders exist across the continuum of care,” said Nakhumicha.
She said that it is against this backdrop that in 2021, the Ministry constituted a National Taskforce to review the institutional arrangements and prevailing capacity for the delivery of affordable, responsive and high-quality cancer care services.
“I am pleased to note that the report of this taskforce was presented to my office in July 2022 and has been assigned to the National Cancer Institute of Kenya to oversee its implementation,” she said.
Nakhumicha highlighted that the National Cancer Summit will thus provide an appropriate platform for stakeholders from across all sectors to, among other discussions, deliberate on the recommendations arising from the Cancer Taskforce Report, review the progress made over the last 10 years in addressing the cancer burden, identify areas of learning from successful strategies and together, formulate solutions for collective action.
“I am pleased to note that the Summit has brought together more than 500 local and international stakeholders in the cancer control arena to drive conversations on how to improve our cancer control efforts,” she said.
“In line with the Summit theme “Uniting Our Voices and Taking Action” I call upon our noble partners and well-wishers to join hands with us in making the summit a resounding success,” said Nakhumicha.
The CS reiterated their commitment as the Ministry of Health working with all stakeholders to deliver strategies which will not only transform the cancer response but improve quality of life and bring prosperity to Kenya.
“I call upon us all to take personal initiative to educate our fellow brothers and sisters on leading healthy lifestyles and undergoing regular health checks to enable early detection,” urged Nakhumicha.
By Joseph Ng’ang’a