Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS), Dr Mercy Mwangangi, has urged Kenyans to go for early cancer screening and treatments as a step towards winning the war against the disease.
Dr Mwangangi said there was a need to bridge the gap between screening and medication, adding that 70 per cent of cancer cases in Kenya are diagnosed late when nothing much can be done.
Speaking during the Third Commemoration of the Opening of the Nakuru Oncology Unit, at the level Five Teaching and Referral Hospital, the CAS noted that the Ministry was strengthening the capacity of health care workers to screen and detect precancerous cells.
Dr Mwangangi who was accompanied by Governor Lee Kinyanjui revealed that the government had developed National Cancer Guidelines aimed at improving accuracy of screening and diagnosis of the disease at both County and National levels.
She stated that an average of 48,000 cases of cancer were being recorded in the country annually leading to 34,000 deaths.
The CAS noted data from the devolved unit’s health department indicated that fewer men compared to women are checked for cancer. She asserted that most cancers were treatable if diagnosed early. He called on Kenyans to change their perception of the disease as a death sentence.
According to statistics at the Ministry of Health, the national uptake of screening stands at 16 per cent while data from Kenya Cancer Network indicates there are about 40,000 new cases of cancer each year in the country that leads to 28,000 deaths annually.
“Each one of us can play a role in reducing the impact of cancer. This is a disease that can be managed if detected early. It is not a death sentence,” noted Mwangangi.
On Covid-19, the CAS said 950,000 Kenyans had received vaccination against the deadly virus, adding that 130,000 more doses had been received as donations from Democratic Republic of Congo.
She said the government was in talks with Johnson and Johnson to procure 30 million doses of vaccines that will be delivered in batches.
Governor Kinyanjui said his Administration had recognized the burden cancer has on families and communities and set up an ultra-modern oncology centre at the Nakuru County Referral Hospital.
He said statistics from the health department indicated that the leading cancer reported in men within the devolved unit was prostrate while incidents of breast and cervical cancer were high among women of reproductive age.
The statistics from the Ministry of Health also rank cancer as the third leading high mortality disease in Kenya, with cervical cancer being the top cause of death among women followed by breast, uterine and oesophagus cancers. The statistics indicate that about 6,000 new cases of breast cancer are reported every year in the country.
Official records, Mr Kinyanjui observed, revealed that though numbers of those checked was going up, most men shied away from screening centers. He urged Kenyans to enroll with National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) to cater for treatment.”
The Governor added that the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) offers an oncology package that covers radiotherapy and chemotherapy sessions. With an NHIF card, a patient can get up to 20 radiotherapy sessions as well as six chemotherapy sessions that can cost up to Sh25,000 each.
He affirmed that Universal Health Coverage can only be achieved if the country focused on prevention of killer non-communicable diseases with no signs in the early stages such as cancer.
Kinyanjui observed that though cancer has previously been wrongly assumed to be a disease majorly reported among the affluent in the society, it was now very common among middle and low-income earners in the country.
He also encouraged parents to take their 10-year-old girls for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.
Mr Kinyanjui disclosed that the cervical cancer screening services remain available in all public health facilities within the devolved unit, and appealed to all eligible women to visit their nearest health facilities for screening at least once a year.
Since the Oncology centre was established at the Nakuru Level Six Hospital four years ago, more than 25,000 cases have been reviewed out of which over 3,000 have undergone chemotherapy.
Prior to the establishment of the department, patients in need of cancer treatment were referred to Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret.
More Kenyan women die of cancer than men, according to the World Health Organization’s research agency.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer’s Globocan data shows that the disease claims 18,772 women compared to 14,215 men yearly. Women also lead in new cancer cases with 28,688 getting the disease compared to 19,199 men, representing 56 per cent of the total new cases.
In the next five years, the Globocan data shows, Kenyan women will continue bearing the brunt as cancer rates are set to rise twice faster than in men.
Nakuru County Health Executive Committee (CEC) Member, Dr Kariuki Gichuki, said there was a glimmer of hope for patients requiring Radiotherapy sessions who have to travel to Nairobi, as Nakuru County has started construction of a Sh500 Million Radiotherapy Centre.
Cancer accounts for seven per cent of annual deaths in Kenya and is now a common illness. Cervical cancer, second most common, can be prevented through vaccination.
By Jane Ngugi and Dennis Rasto