Kenyans want government to declare cancer a national disaster after third high profile death in July

A collage showing the Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore (up), Kibra MP Ken Okoth (left) and Bomet Governor Dr Joyce Laboso (right). [File, Standard]

July ends on a very sad note.

Three high profile Kenyans have succumbed to cancer. This is in addition to the hundreds of Kenyans who have lost the battle to the disease. Their deaths may not be breaking news but they add to the growing statistics of the deadly impact of cancer. 

The three high profile Kenyans - Bob Collymore, Ken Okoth and Dr Joyce Laboso - succumbed to cancer in July. Kenyans are now making a desperate plea to the government to declare cancer a national disaster. 

Bob Collymore, 61 - Safaricom CEO

Collymore was the face of Safaricom. On the first day of July, Kenyans started the week with the shocking news that Collymore had passed on at his home in Kitusuru. The Guyanese-born national who had made Kenya his home was battling Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). He left behind a widow and four children.  

"It is with deep sorrow that we announce the passing away of Robert (Bob) William Collymore CEO of Safaricom Plc which occurred at his home in the morning of 1st July 2019," read a statement from Safaricom. 

Collymore had battled AML for over one year. He was later cremated at the Kariokor Crematorium in a ceremony attended by close family and friends.

After he was diagnosed with AML, Collymore took a nine months medical leave in late 2017 to undergo cancer treatment in the UK. In May 2017, the Safaricom Board extended his contract by one year and he said he would spend the time helping the company diversify revenue streams. Sadly, Collymore never got the chance to actualise his plans. The cruel hand of cancer took him away. 

Ken Okoth, 41 - Kibra Member of Parliament 

"I was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer with metastases to the liver," Ken Okoth told Sunday Standard writer Graham Kajilwa in February 2019.

"The fear of the unknown that accompanies a cancer diagnosis is immense. Cancer changes your life completely," Okoth told the Sunday Standard reporter. After the interview, Okoth flew to France to continue his treatment. "I will be using chemotherapy tablets that I can take every morning because my disease was discovered at a very advanced stage; it cannot be cured. It can only be managed." 

After arriving from France, when Okoth made his first appearance at the Kibra Arts Festival in Nairobi barely two weeks after returning home, he projected the image of a man whose spirit remained unbowed by a disease that had ravaged his body. He told the audience at the event that he was terribly homesick while he was away in France. 

Come Friday, July 25, Ken lost the battle to cancer. Okoth is the third MP to do of cancer in the 12th parliament. 

Okoth had been admitted at the Nairobi hospital a day before he succumbed. At the time of his death, he was on a life support system that was turned off in respect as per his request before his death, his family revealed.

Dr Joyce Laboso, 58 - Governor Bomet County

Joyce Laboso died of cancer on Monday 29 July 2019.

Laboso was hospitalised at the Nairobi hospital where she was receiving treatment two weeks after arriving from India on July 14 - where she had sought treatment. Prior to that, she had been hospitalised at the Royal Madden NHS hospital in the UK. She had been away for 46 days. 

Earlier today, her office released a statement saying doctors had recommended complete bed rest to aid her recovery. "The governor is recuperating and is under observation by her doctors who have recommended (for) her enough rest and limited visitation for a speedy recovery,"  Ezra Kirui, County Communications Director said in a statement.  


Unlike Collymore and Okoth; Dr Laboso’s illness was a secret affair. "The state of her health is strictly a family affair, we cannot purport to speak for them. She should be given the support she needs and we should not intrude into their privacy," said Dr Hillary Barchok, Bomet deputy governor.