For years, many Kenyans seeking cancer treatment have been forced to travel to India for critical healthcare, denting their pockets financially to at least Kes2 million per patient.
However, there is hope after the Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital (CGTRH) opened a new state-of-the-art cancer treatments centre.
“We are doing all this to ensure wananchi have unfettered access to quality health services. We are doing these things not only in Mombasa but across the country,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said during the opening of the hospital.
The new facility will be the second cancer centre in Kenya after the one at Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital in Nairobi.
It has been fitted with state-of-the-art radiotherapy machines and can treat up to 120 patients per week when it becomes fully operational.
The President said it will offer services at very subsidized prices and Kenyans registered with the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) will access services without the need to incur further costs.
Built as a partnership between the national government and the county government, the facility will offer both radiotherapy and chemotherapy services.
“The kind of services offered at this centre can only be found in private hospitals in Nairobi or India. In India, you cannot get services if you do not have a minimum of Kes2 million, but in this facility, you will not pay anything,” said the Head of State.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said the government is committed to opening several other cancer centres across the country.
“On March 20, we have targeted to open a similar centre in Nakuru County. We will then go to Garissa, Kisumu and Nyeri counties. When we talk about access to health, this is the centrepiece of the Universal Health Coverage,” said Mr Kagwe.
Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho said cancer treatment is very expensive for many Kenyans.
“Most of the time, sickness needs a lot of support from family. Those that come here at Coast General to be treated are the people that matter in our lives. We are committed to ensuring the citizens get the medicine required,” he said.
Last year, CGTRH attended to 6,296 cases of cancer, according to the data from the hospital administration.
Of the over 6,000 cases, 629 were newly diagnosed cases whereas 1,690 patients were undergoing chemotherapy and about 300 radiotherapy sessions.
According to the Ministry of Health, cancer is the third leading cause of deaths in Kenya after infectious and cardiovascular diseases.
From 2012 to 2018, the annual incidence of cancer increased from 37,000 to 47,000 new cases. During the same period, annual cancer mortality rose almost 16 percent, from 28,500 to nearly 33,000 cancer-related deaths.
Among men, prostate, oesophagal and colorectal are the leading cancers, while among women, breast, cervical and oesophagal cancers are most common.
Globally, cancer is one of the leading causes of death, with an estimated 20 million people diagnosed and 10 million deaths from the disease in 2021.
The World Health Organization had earlier called for closing the gap that exists between high and low-income countries in terms of the availability of cancer care.
“This means that a cancer diagnosis has the potential to push families into poverty, particularly in lower-income countries, an effect that has been exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic,” WHO said.
According to WHO, though all cancers can be treated and many can be prevented or cured, available care reflects global inequality.
Comprehensive treatment is available in more than 90 percent of high-income countries, but less than 15 percent of low-income countries.
Cancer services are covered by national healthcare services in only 37 percent of low- and middle-income countries, compared to at least 78 percent of high-income countries.
Dr Tedros called on governments to invest in primary healthcare by supporting universal health coverage and ensuring all people have access to healthcare services and a leading healthy lifestyle.