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Moi County Referral Hospital in Voi cancer unit adopts tele-medicine technology

Moi County Referral Hospital in Voi Sub-County has broken new frontiers after the oncology department launched a specialized tele-medicine platform to enhance the diagnosis, management and treatment of cancer cases in the region.

The tele-medicine platform initiative is a joint initiative between the cancer department at the referral facility and International Cancer Institute, one of the key partners supporting the operations of the unit.

Dr. Becky Mwakichako, a general practitioner who heads the cancer unit, says the launch of the platform heralds a new era in diagnosis, staging, treatment and management of cancer cases in the region.

Through the platform, the department will be able to interface with oncology and radiology specialists from other countries as a way to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach in discussion on cancer cases being treated locally.

“The platform will enable experts to engage and have a common approach for handling local cancer cases. This will greatly enable the cancer unit to reap from the pool of expertise by cancer specialists elsewhere,” she said. The cancer tele-medicine platform is the first of its kind in the Coast region.

Dr. Mwakichako disclosed that selected staff had already been trained on tele-medicine technology, even as the department awaits the arrival of the state-of-the-art equipment. Currently, the tele-medicine platform is uploaded on mobile phones of some of the trained staff.

It will involve uploading of high-resolution images on the platform where specialists will study them and make recommendations that will boost in managing specific cancer cases in the county.

“We are excited by this development. The imaging department comes in very handy by providing us with the high-resolution images for discussion by experts,” she said.

Since the cancer unit opened late 2020, there has been a surge in the number of patients seeking services at the facility.  The department currently registers an average of between five and ten new patients who need diagnosis or treatment.

Dr. Mwakichako stated that equipping the department has bolstered the operations and made it possible to give better and improved services to patients in the region.

Dr. Becky Mwakichako, the head of Cancer Unit at Moi County Referral Hospital in Voi. The unit has transitioned to a tele-medicine platform for treatment of cancer. Photo by Wagema Mwangi

“We are able to have a biopsy on site. Whenever we find any suspicious lump or lesion, we run a biopsy test from here and determine if it’s cancerous,” she said. This has lessened the turn-around time for earlier diagnosis and treatment.

Before the opening of the unit, all cancer cases detected in the region were either referred to Mombasa or Nairobi. The transport, accommodation and treatment cost for patients seeking treatment outside the county made cancer a prohibitively expensive affair.

However, with the department up and running, the numbers of patients seeking treatment have grown exponentially. Some cancer patients who have been getting treatment in larger facilities including Kenyatta National Hospital have approached the unit to be allowed to continue with their treatment locally.

“There are a number of patients who have been undergoing cancer treatment in hospitals elsewhere. They want to transfer and continue with their treatment from our clinic. This shows the level of trust and confidence the patients have for the services we are offering,” she said.

One of the biggest boosts for the clinic’s operations is incorporating the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) medical scheme to meet some of the cost towards managing cancer cases. The medic disclosed that the facility has entered into partnership with NHIF on subsidizing the cost through catering for the cost of crucial chest, abdominal and pelvic scans that are mandatory in staging of cancer.

“Cost of cancer treatment has been the biggest challenge amongst many people. With NHIF, the prohibitive cost of scans are made manageable and patients can get our services,” she explained. She further argued that though the patient might need to meet some of the cost for subsequent treatment phases, NHIF would come in handy to offer some financial reprieve.

Currently, the clinic is receiving histopathology services from partners but plans are underway to establish a lab at the hospital to cut the dependency. Other plans being mooted include installing a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine for quick diagnosis of soft tissue malignancy.

However, the medic called for investment in radiation therapy equipment for cancer treatment. To date, there is no medical facility amongst the six counties in the Coast region that offers radiation therapy services. Patients in need of the life-saving radiation therapy are forced to travel to Nairobi where they spend a fortune in accommodation and related expenses.

“We are still sending our patients to hospitals in Nairobi. The cost is very high because they have to spend on transport and accommodation. The burden becomes bigger when the patients are slotted to have the radiation therapy sessions for several days. A radiation center in the Coast region would really ease the financial suffering to the patients,” she said.

The County Executive Committee Member for Health (CECM) Mr. John Mwangeka says that the county would continue to invest in the health sector to ensure local patients did not have to travel outside to seek medical services. He stated that investments like the sh14-million Oxygen plant and imaging center were intended to improve the quality of services offered in health facilities.

“We are committed to provide the best care for our people. This is the key reason we are investing heavily in the sector,” he said.

In the last two years, the county has spent millions of shillings to open several key clinics at Moi County Referral Hospital that are currently operational. Key amongst them are the eye clinic, cancer clinic, hemophilia and sickle cell clinics.

By Wagema Mwangi

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