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Sad tales of Kenya cancer patients bearing the brunt of doctors’ strike

By Lydiah Nyawira | February 1st 2017
University of Nairobi medical students took to the streets on January 19 outside the Ministry of Health offices in Nairobi over the government‘s reluctance to implement the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Theresia Muthoni was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 and had a mastectomy in 1997. Since then, she has been in remission and has been working as a volunteer with Slopes Cancer Awareness Network, an organistion helping cancer survivors.

Last year, cancer came calling again - this time around it was cervical cancer.

She was scheduled to have a hysterectomy to remove her uterus to save her life. The surgery was supposed to done on December 9, 2016 at the Nyeri Level Five Hospital. However, with the doctors’ strike, the operation could not be done at the public hospital, forcing her to go to Tumutumu Mission Hospital.

“It was a very expensive affair, but I had no choice since it was a matter of life and death. I had to make the decision,” Muthoni said.

Joyce Nyakinyua a cancer survivor at her home at Kigogo Village in Tetu, Nyeri. She is one of the cancer's survivor who had shifted to Texas Cancer Centre in Nairobi following the doctor's strike in the country. PHOTO: KIBATA KIHU/STANDARD

For Joyce Nyakinyua, the doctors’ strike that started in December came at the wrong time. On October 5, 2016, Nyakinyua underwent a mastectomy at Nyeri Level Five Hospital as a result of breast to cancer. This was to be followed by chemotherapy in November.

“I had my first chemotherapy session in November at Nyeri Level Five Hospital, paying Sh500 after buying drugs for Sh15,000,” she said.

Nyakinyua, who lives in Kigogo-ini Village in Tetu Constituency, says her next chemotherapy session was scheduled for December 20. However, with the doctors’ strike already in full force, she was worried.

“I went to the hospital and asked the nurse in charge what was going to happen but she said without the doctors, we would not have any treatment,” Nyakinyua recalls.

At the time, doctors were in negotiations with the government over pay dispute and she watched the story with bated breath, hoping for the best. Failure to the government to reach a deal with striking doctors left her and other cancer patients stranded.

Nyakinyua and three other women who had come to seek treatment sought advice on what to do next.

“The nurse referred us to Texas Cancer Centre in Nairobi. She called ahead and gave them our medical records. We raised some money and set off for Nairobi the next day,” she said.

However, the big city of Nairobi confused them, spending close to five hours trying to get directions to the facility.

“Weak with exhaustion, I collapsed and luckily, a Good Samaritan helped us get a taxi to the private hospital where we received our first round of chemotherapy,” Nyakinyua said.

The charges were too high for the single mother of two. She had to hold a fundraiser, with the help of her local church, to raise funds to travel to Nairobi.

“One of the problems I am facing is that I cannot miss a session, otherwise I have to start all over again. It is too much for me both physically and emotionally,” she said.

To make matters worse, she had to travel to Nairobi a day before her chemotherapy session, which meant renting a room. After the session, she cannot travel back the same day as the treatment has the side-effects, which includes weakening her physically.

This means she must budget for at least two nights or more in Nairobi, which she cannot afford.

“The travelling has been exhausting and the doctors said that my tests showed I was too weak to undergo chemotherapy on January 10. I have to wait for a week,” she said.

But Nyakinyua says she considers herself lucky as she was able to travel to Nairobi to get treatment.

“I know of five women in this village who have various stages of cancer but are unable to get any treatment and silently awaiting their fate because it is intertwined with the doctors’ strike,” she said.

Cancer survivor Elizabeth Njeri said she was angry and disappointed at the manner in which the government has handled the doctors’ strike.

“The government should have given cancer patients alternative places to seek treatment. This is a violation of our rights to good healthcare. She noted that without the doctors, cancer patients have been forced to turn to private facilities, which are too expensive.

“We are human beings...it is our right to have access to affordable and accessible healthcare. We buy our own drugs and all we need is some protection from exploitation,” said Njeri.

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