Shortage of vital drug pushes cancer patients beyond their means

Fridah Kambayi, 50, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. [Mercy Kahenda/Standard]
Manufacturer had agreed to sell medicine at half-price, and the Government has been accused of dragging its feet on the deal.

By the time Moureen Omamo is through with treatment for cancer, her family will have spent not less than Sh2.7 million.

But Moureen, 30, would have had access to a crucial drug for free if a government-funded programme had not stalled.

Vital drug

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Every three weeks, her husband, Bernard Senagi, needs to come up with at least Sh150,000 for a single dose of Trastuzumab, also known as Herceptin, a vital drug for aggressive breast cancer.

In 2016, the Ministry of Health entered into a partnership with the drug’s manufacturer, Roche Kenya, to jointly fund it and make it available for free at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).

However, the deal has stalled.

“We were in the hospital around January, but the drug was not available,” said Mr Senagi. The Government and the manufacturer had agreed on a 50-50 share of the cost, with the Ministry of Health agreeing to buy the drug from Roche at half the market price.

Outside the partnership deal, the drug costs Sh250,000 per dose. This translates to Sh4.5 million for the required 18 therapy sessions.

On June 25 this year, the Kenya Network of Cancer Organisation (Kenco) wrote to the ministry expressing concern at the unavailability of the drug.

Kenco chairman, David Makumi, said the availability of the drug depended on how soon the ministry released cash to the manufacturer. 

“Patients are suffering, many missing their doses and risking disease’ progression,” said Mr Makumi.

The network suggested that the purchase of the drug be taken over by the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa).


“Ideally, the Ministry (of health) has no business purchasing drugs,” wrote Makumi.

The organisation also wants Kemsa to float a tender for the supply of the drug and its cheaper versions and the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) to provide full medical cover for patients who need it.

“At the moment, NHIF is only covering about six sessions out of the 18. What is the need then of treating patients and leaving them halfway?” asked Makumi.

The head of preventative health at the ministry, Peter Cherutich, admitted that there were hiccups in supply of the drug. The head of the National Cancer Control Programme, Anne Ng’ang’a, said a meeting to address the issues raised was scheduled for this week

But as the deal wobbles, Moureen and scores of other cancer patients at KNH face a grim future.

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