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Government should fund research and build capacity to fight cancer

 Citizens should improve their knowledge of prevention strategies, such as routine medical check-ups. [iStockphoto]

World Cervical Cancer Month is observed in January every year.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally. There were an estimated 604,000 new cervical cancer cases and 342,000 deaths in 2020 alone.

According to WHO, 90 per cent of cervical cancer cases occur in low and middle-income countries. In 2020, Kenya recorded 5,236 new cases and 3,211 deaths, making cervical cancer the leading cause of cancer mortality overall. Many families in Kenya have one or more relatives suffering from different cancer types.

Health economists and healthcare financing experts say the situation has remained dire, forcing families to incur huge medical costs that lead them into poverty. According to the National Cancer Taskforce report of July 2022, nine people die from cervical cancer daily. The number balloons when you combine all cancer-related deaths, where 74 people die daily.

As envisaged in the Constitution, the right to health is an inalienable right for every person. However, this right is so costly to cancer and, by extension, Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) patients and close families. The cost spans from the logistics and unregulated specialist consultation fee to screening, detection, diagnosis, treatment, and palliative care.  

Universal Health Coverage principles, which started in 2018, envisioned a healthcare system that offers high-quality services, more accessibility, and lower out-of-pocket costs.

This was in tandem with the 2010 Constitution that led to a new dawn and prominence of service provision with the highest and attainable standards of healthcare to any citizen. Because of the magnitude of the matter, time has come for all the stakeholders to refocus and re-prioritise their efforts toward cancer control.

It was shocking to read a government document - Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2022- giving a wide berth to cancer and other NCDs. This vividly shows the country’s insensitivity and parochial view toward the fight against cancer.

It is necessary to fully fund the National Cancer Control Strategy, whose objective is to drastically lower the incidence, morbidity, mortality, cancer down staging, and survival rates in Kenya by making services for primary prevention, early detection, high-quality diagnostics, treatment, and palliative care available to the public.

In the same vein, the government should support research and espouse precision medicine, build the capacity of, and incubate a platoon of healthcare professionals to enhance our surge capacity for oncologists, clinical pathologists, laboratory officers, histologists, epidemiologists, oncology nurses, radiologists, health informaticians, health promotion officers, public health officers, social, behavioural and communication change experts, and other palliative caregivers with the aim of alleviating the cancer menace.

We can’t close our drapes without mentioning the improvement of primary healthcare to support the prevention pillar, such as by increasing HPV vaccination rates, promoting screening, raising awareness on the importance of screening, enhancing infrastructure for screening, diagnosing, treating and managing patients, regulating consultation fees, and lowering or freezing taxes on cancer drugs and technology. This will ultimately help patients to avoid the exorbitant costs they are currently facing.

Citizens should improve their knowledge of cancer signs and symptoms, and prevention strategies, such as engaging in physical inactivities, routine medical check-ups, eating healthily, avoiding risky behaviours, avoiding tobacco use and getting immunised.

-Mr Marcomic and Dr Ongaki are Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program Residents-Nairobi

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