For many Kenyans, the mention of cancer still carries a shroud of fear and uncertainty. For a varying set of reasons, the prevailing culture among the population is that of engaging healthcare on a reactive than proactive basis. This means that the detection and consequent management begins when the cancer is at an advanced stage, which often causes more suffering than relief to patients.
The awareness of early signs and symptoms for most cancerous cases is essential in order to facilitate diagnosis and treatment at an early stage. A positive diagnosis for cancer need not be synonymous with a death sentence.
Sadly, majority of the deaths due to cancer in Kenya are because of ignorance about risk factors for the illness, the importance of a healthy lifestyle, preventative care and the absence of a steady continuum of care around oncology.
There are approximately 4,465 new breast cancer cases and 1,969 deaths annually; and approximately 4,800 new cervical cancer cases - and sadly over 50 per cent deaths annually.
The increasing cancer burden in Kenya has prompted the government to outline significant intended investments in cancer care and treatment in the country. According to the National Cancer Control Strategy 2017- 2022, basic cancer treatment facilities will be available in 47 counties.
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This includes the proposed establishment of four comprehensive regional cancer treatment centres in Mombasa, Nakuru, Nyeri and Kisii for Sh8 billion in a five-year period.
With an understanding of the challenges in the country’s oncology treatment system, a collaborative approach involving a diverse range of stakeholders in the public, private, non-profit and academia sectors is required and is the most effective approach to solving the challenges at hand.
Adoption of relevant technologies in cancer care has also seen many countries make great strides in fighting the disease. Recently, Aga Khan University Hospital unveiled the first advanced early detection PET CT and Cyclotron in Sub-Saharan Africa. The technology provided by General Electric Healthcare gives an accurate indication of the progress of the disease at its earliest stages.
This means Kenyans will no longer need to travel abroad for accurate cancer diagnosis, a shift that should significantly lessen the burden of healthcare costs.
Further to the introduction of enhanced equipment for cancer diagnosis, there is need to invest in training and upskilling of medical practitioners such as radiographers as well as nursing staff. Beyond training on cancer management equipment, the importance of psychiatric care for patients cannot be overstated.
The need for new and disruptive models to address the growing oncology burden in Kenya calls for an integrated primary healthcare approach that includes the development of human resources for health and incorporating tailored task shifting to close clinical capacity gaps.
In conjunction with Aga Khan University Hospital, GE Healthcare hosted a PET CT and Cyclotron symposium to drive dialogue on latest innovations and interventions in early cancer diagnosis and detection.
Other symposia will be held to continually bridge the knowledge gap in the field.
For early detection to work as an effective means of stopping cancer, there clearly needs to be a more integrated system in place to both encourage Kenyans to go for screenings while at the same time equipping the healthcare sector to carry out this lifesaving task.
- The writer is the General Manager, East Africa, GE Healthcare