Where the Shoe Pinches Most: Expanding Access to Radiotherapy in Kenya and Beyond

Njeri Mbure

Njeri Mbure

“Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches most,” so the idiom goes, but it’s a fair representation to thousands of cancer patients in Kenya. While radiotherapy services do not cost an arm and a leg as compared to charges abroad, the challenge here is unique; the availability of radiotherapy machines for the majority poor patients. And, therefore, many of the patients here must cling to hope. Hope that maybe tomorrow will bring with it better tidings. But as we all know, hope is never a strategy. Therefore, hopelessness begins to slowly take over as they wait, maybe for a year, for their turn to receive the elusive treatment.

According to the UICC, 29 of 52 countries in Africa have no radiotherapy available to patients [1]. Kenya is fortunate to have radiotherapy services. However, Kenyatta National Hospital, the largest public referral hospital in the country, currently has only two radiotherapy machines. More than 1000 patients are scheduled for radiotherapy stretching from now all the way to 2016. The sad truth is this that many of them will not make it to their appointment date. While several private hospitals in Nairobi also offer radiotherapy, the costs are beyond the reach of the majority of the population who live on a dollar a day. With cancer as the number three cause of death in the country, there remains an urgent need for action to expand access to radiotherapy machines in Kenya and Africa as a whole.

Radiotherapy plays a significant role in cancer care.. In combination with other treatments such as chemotherapy and surgery, many cancer patients may survive. Further, many women in Africa are affected by cervical cancer which if detected early, can be cured where adequate radiation therapy is available. There must be affordable access to cancer treatment, most importantly, access to affordable radiotherapy treatment in Kenya. It’s quite encouraging to note that some African countries such as Egypt, Mauritius and South Africa have made tremendous progress with radiation therapy access in the public sector.

opiyo

Dr Anselmy Opiyo, head of cancer unit at Kenyatta National Hospital. [ 2 ]

Looking at the current cancer situation in my home country Kenya, I want to be counted as a person who walks the talk. I am embarking on a journey of raising awareness of cancer care and the importance of radiotherapy machines. This is not a one-woman journey, but I embark on it with full confidence that like-minded people, who see the need to expand radiotherapy in the public sector by getting more machines at Kenyatta National Hospital and other public facilities will join in this worthy cause and make a difference.

In March, I will be working on a short film that aims to highlight the current state of cancer care in Kenya and, in particular, access to radiotherapy service at Kenyatta National Hospital. My hope is that through this film, various stakeholders will be able to get first-hand experience of the current situation and understand the deep need for radiotherapy in Kenya as well as in many other African countries – some of which do not have a single radiation therapy machine.

[1] http://www.uicc.org/

[2] Picture From: http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/

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