Cancer survivors tell of their woes

By Peter Orengo


Cancer cases in Kenya are increasing rapidly yet the public has little information on prevention and treatment.

Medical Services Minister Anyang’ Nyong’o (right), his wife Dorothy and Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s wife, Ida (centre), during the launch of the African Cancer Foundation at a Nairobi hotel, on Tuesday.  Photo: Collins Kweyu/Standard

This was the message during the launch of the African Cancer Foundation (ACF), a brainchild of Medical Services Minister, Anyang’ Nyong’o, a cancer survivor.

The audience openly shed tears as they listened to personal accounts and experiences of cancer survivors who graced the occasion. Ida Odinga and Chief Justice Willy Mutunga presided over the launch.

Prof Nyong’o, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year and got specialised treatment in the US, stunned the audience when he revealed that he had since received hundreds of stories of Kenyans with prostate cancer who did not know where to find help.

He told of a young man from Murang’a who had a wound in the neck that had been treated with antibiotics and had resigned to his condition until someone gave him information on cancer. He is now on the list of those the foundation is targeting for specialised treatment.


Medical insurance


“We were simply overwhelmed by these stories and I can go on and on. That is why medical insurance is the only hope to help poor Kenyans in rural areas suffering silently,” said Nyong’o.

The story of three-year-old Alexandra Ajowi, who is miles away from home in India, moved the audience to tears when they were told how the child has endured leukemia in her young life.

Alexandra’s grandmother, Margaret Oluka, recounted how she made numerous trips to different offices and friends’ homes to get financial help for her granddaughter’s treatment.

“Prof Nyong’o helped me forward a letter to the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) that facilitated the convening of an urgent meeting to discuss Alexandra’s situation. That is when NHIF released Sh2 million towards her treatment,” said Oluka.

The child is recovering after undergoing bone marrow transplant.

Dr Mutunga called for investment in genetic engineering and biotechnology that would take the country to the cutting edge of medical science if Kenyan is to deal effectively with cancer.

“The Constitution considers health care as a basic human right. The cure and care for cancer is not a simple matter; it costs a lot financially, emotionally and socially. The aim of this foundation is to find a means by which we can ease the financial burden of Kenyans,” said Mutunga.


Developing countries


Cancer causes more deaths than TB, malaria and HIV and Aids combined. Over 70 per cent of cancer related deaths occur in developing countries, many in Africa. The World Health Organisation reports that there were over 680,000 deaths caused by cancer in 2008.

According to the Global Status Report on non-communicable diseases, cancer is predicted to be an increasingly important cause of morbidity and mortality in the next few decades, in all regions of the world.

“These are just a few of the reasons the Africa Cancer Foundation is being established. ACF is committed to promoting the prevention of cancer and providing holistic solutions to people affected by cancer in Africa,” said Nyong’o.

He said the major mission for ACF will be to ensure early diagnosis and access to cancer care and treatment irrespective of social status.

In Africa, women mostly suffer from cervical and breast cancers, while men suffer from Kaposi sarcoma, liver, prostate, stomach, lung, esophagus, and bladder cancers.

In Kenya, the most frequently diagnosed cancers are breast and esophagus cancers leading to about 118,000 cancer deaths in below the age of 70 every year. Over 82,000 new cases are diagnosed annually while many go unreported.