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The grim task of taking care of cancer patients

Dr Adam Hamid attends to one of his patients, Mohammed Bosco, at Mombasa County’s Coast General Hospital. [PHOTO: KELVIN KARANI/STANDARD]

On an ordinary day, a doleful silence greets anyone who visits Rahimtullah ward in Coast General Hospital. Except for few patients seeking diagnosis and those on chemotherapy, the narrow halls of the ward are largely deserted.

But once a month, the waiting room gets packed with patients out to see the visiting oncologist, Dr Adam Hamid, who is the Head of Cancer Ward.

He takes us through a winding corridor to his office as he shows us structures dating back to 2006, when the clinic started off with 10 patients.

"We now take care of over 1,500 patients from across the Coast region. But I can assure you there are many who are not captured under our care. Just recently, a traditional healer put a sign post just outside the hospital claiming he could heal cancer," Hamid says while pointing at a tree outside the hospital where the signboard still hangs.

Traditional beliefs

He blames superstition for late diagnosis of most cancer cases in the region.

"Most patients come to seek treatment when their conditions have progressed. Some seek conventional help only after having exhausted traditional healers help," Hamid says.

He says among the 1,500 cases being attended to at the facility, 650 cases are breast cancer related while 240 are prostate cancer.

"Breast cancer is a big threat here, and the high cost of medication has not made matters any better. One course of treatment costs up to Sh50,000, depending on the form of cancer," says Hamid adding that liver cancer, Leukaemia and lymphomas are the other cases attended to at the facility.

But just what are the challenges of working at Rahimtullah ward?

Dr Hamid has an improvised gear for mixing chemicals at the small laboratory that includes a mask, a gown and gloves. The laboratory has a small sink with running water, a small mixing table and a two rotating blades that acts as fume removers.

"Some of the toxic drugs produce toxic fumes in the course of mixing, which if inhaled can have future repercussions," he says.

Inadequate staff

The ward also grapples with inadequate staff. There is no nurse attached to the facility. There is also no counsellor, nutritionist or record keeper.

Emergency patients who require close monitoring are admitted and attended to at the ward, while less serious cases are put on a daycare programme, where they return home after treatment.

The challenges notwithstanding, Dr Hamid lauds plans that will see the clinic moved to a more spacious building within the hospital in a month's time.

He however says a radiotherapy machine in the region's largest referral facility would go a long way in saving patients’ lives.

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