Jane Frances Angalia watched last week’s news on the launch of the first imaging test machine for PET-CT scan services with enthusiasm.
It had been a long time coming, and she says people who have battled cancer or taken care of cancer patients would internalise the excitement she felt over the arrival of the machine.
“I know families that have been counting days since the announcement of the possibility of the country getting the machine last year,” she says.
The Positron Emission Tomography-Computed Tomography (PET-CT) scanner and Cyclotron enables physicians to study the body in extraordinary detail, allowing them to diagnose diseases early and plan the most effective course of treatment. It is the first of its kind in East and Central Africa.
Aga Khan Hospital, Nairobi, said it invested more than Sh600 million to secure the machine that will help in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, heart disease and other illness.
For Ms Angalia, the machine could save Kenyans from the agony she underwent when she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. It is a rare form of aggressive cancerthat is difficult to treat as it does not respond to hormonal therapy, unlike other forms. Hers was 3B, a late stage diagnosis.
“The doctor advised that I start treatment the next day. Everything was happening so fast, I could not process it,” she says. Before then, she was a part time lecturer, studying for her doctorate in mass communication.
The future held so much promise, until cancercame and interrupted everything. It started with an itch in the armpit. Several trips to the doctor revealed nothing, and when she was finally diagnosed in 2014, the cancer cells were rapidly spreading.
“If the machine was here earlier, maybe I would have gotten a diagnosis sooner,” she says.
Even after she had undergone treatment for one and a half years in Kenya, she had to book for a PET scan in India to check whether the cancercells had been cleared. It is a journey that many Kenyans make due to unavailability of the machine. Those undergoing treatment have to make annual trips abroad to ascertain that the medication they are given in Kenya is working.
Her last trip is this year and she is raising funds for it.
“I would have loved to be a beneficiary of the machine that was brought to Aga Khan, but my treatment was scheduled long before I knew it will be launched,” she says.
Patients started making bookings for the facility as soon as Aga Khan announced they were installing it last year. The hospital, through their director of communication Eunice Mwangi, said it will be handling 10 patients a day.
The PET-CT scanner will also be used in the diagnosis and management of neurological conditions such as dementia and epilepsy. The services will cost Sh69,500 and patients will access it through a doctor’s recommendation. NHIF has committed to pay for its members.
Richard Kiundi knows the struggle it takes for one to seek better health care from home. He started his on and off travels to India in 2014 after being diagnosed with cancer. His last trip was this year when the scan revealed the cancer cells had been suppressed. Every trip would cost him an average of Sh15,000 per week.
“If it can be done here at a cheaper rate, then it is a good step,” he says.
Grace Ooko, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in Kisumu says when her doctor recommended PET- CT scan, she was hopeful that he would send her to Aga Khan. The doctor recommended India, saying public hospitals do not recommend a specific hospital, but give referral and allow patients to choose where is convenient.
“We are waiting to see when the scan will start working, and how many stories of hope we will get from the facility,” Grace says.
The CEO of Aga Khan University Shawn Bolouki said the scanner is timely, since cancer, heart disease and other non-communicable diseases now account for nearly three in 10 deaths in Kenya, according to the World Health Organisation.
Kenya is the fourth country in Africa to have such a facility after Egypt, Morocco and South Africa.