Parliament is seeking to enact legislation to compel the authorities to ensure cancer treatment is part of primary healthcare.
This means that cancer, a disease affecting thousands, most of them under 70, and whose devastating effects extend to many households, will be treated at the basic level rather than at the specialized level as is currently the case.
To achieve this, people in rural areas who would normally be unaware would have greater access to trained cadres in the specialised field of oncology as the proposed law presses for training of oncologists.
The Cancer Prevention and Control (Amendment) Bill, 2016 also seeks the promotion of e-health and telemedicine in the prevention and treatment of cancer and the treatment of persons with cancer as a component of primary healthcare.
The draft law introduces the use of telemedicine, which is the use of information technology to provide clinical healthcare in areas that physical contact with a medical practitioner would be difficult.
“The principal object of this Bill is to amend the Cancer Prevention and Control Act 2012 to make provision for training of health cadres in the specialised medical field of oncology, to include cancer treatment as part of the provision of primary healthcare and to incorporate the use of e-health and telemedicine,” reads the Bill sponsored by Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay).
Telemedicine helps eliminate distance barriers and can improve access to medical services not available in distant rural communities.
Under the proposed law, the National Cancer Institute will have an additional task of promoting e-services, which could revolutionise cancer treatment in Kenya.
“The Bill seeks to expand the scope and functions of the National Cancer Institute to include the promotion of the use of eHealth and eMedicine in the treatment of cancer patients as primary healthcare,” the proposed law states.
The legislation, if passed to become law, will be a key step by Parliament to directly address the plight of cancer patients in the country.
Statistics indicate cancer is the third largest killer in Kenya and it is estimated that 39,000 new cases are reported each year, with more than 27,000 deaths per year.
Among the leading types of cancer in the country are breast cancer in both men and women and prostate cancer.
So dire is the situation that in 2015 a private citizen petitioned Parliament to intervene and remedy the situation.
Muriungi Mburung’a, whose wife is a cancer survivor, even reminded the country of the habit of referring to all negative things as ‘a cancer’.
“It is very normal and common for any leader to compare insecurity to cancer, corruption to cancer, bad governance to cancer, tribalism to cancer, poverty to cancer...
To this extent, I petition the National Assembly to enact a law to bar and outlaw any comparison of negative issues, habits or behaviour to cancer...” he told Parliament.
Parliament has come under attack for failing to do enough to improve the plight of thousands of sufferers.
Although in 2012 Parliament passed a Bill to establish cancer care centres in the 47 counties, the initiative was never fully implemented.
National Assembly Health Committee Vice Chairman Robert Pukose (Endebess) yesterday said Parliament and the country should do more to alleviate the suffering of cancer patients in terms of treatment and policy initiatives.
“We have not done much. Up to now we have not even been able to pass the Health Bill on which issues of diseases such as cancer can be handled. Parliament needs to pull up its socks...”.
“As a committee, we have re-allocated funds meant for non-priority areas to those dealing with cancer. We have also given money to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, and Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) towards treatment and management if cancer,” said Dr Pukose.
“Parliament should be looking at the budget issue since the situation in the country is dire. Cancer is the third leading cause of death in the county, and looking ta this situation, I think parliament needs to do more. We have not done enough considering the scope of the problem,” he said.
According to Dr Catherine Nyongesa, an oncologist at KNH, the country needs to invest more on cancer awareness.
“The main problem is in terms of awareness. We are moving slowly, but we are on the right direction. That is where we need to put the right policies.
“Lack of awareness is responsible for late detection of the disease by many sufferers,” noted Dr Nyongesa.
The training of more cancer health practitioners would radically improve the human capacity of treating the disease in the country, which currently has less than 15 oncologists.
In as much as the proposed Bill seeks to give assistance to cancer patients in terms of providing machines and lessening treatment costs, it deserves the support of all who understand the toll cancer and other diseases like kidney and liver failures have not just on the individual and the family, but the country at large.
Doctors have been on strike for close to two months agitating for better pay, better working conditions and a revamping of the sector.