The challenges faced by cancer patients in Kenya are many, cancer is an illness associated with substantial physical, emotional, social, and financial ramifications for affected individuals and their families.
Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide with an estimated 9.6 people having died of cancer in 2018.
According to the 2018 report by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, an estimated 47,887 Kenyans get cancer annually while 32,987 die from it every year.
Challenges faced by cancer patients
1. Shortage of experts
According to the National Cancer Institute of Kenya, in almost all public healthcare facilities, there is a shortage of specialized personnel to provide oncology care including oncologists, medical physicists, oncology nurses and pharmacists.
The Cabinet Secretary for Health in November, 2019 revealed that Kenya has 16 radiation oncologists, 10 medical physicists, 35 oncology nurses, 27 therapy radiographers and three nuclear medicine physicians, way below the number of people seeking medical care in both public and private health facilities.
According to data released in March, 2018 by the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board, released in March 2018, there are 6,394 actively practicing Kenyan doctors. Of these, 2,591 were specialists. A further 939 were foreign doctors with temporary licenses, bringing the total to 7,333.
2. Shortage of medicines
According to the Kenya Harmonized Assessment report for 2018/19, only one in ten cancer patients in public hospitals has access to morphine, for management of moderate to severe cancer pain. In addition to this, that have to contend with irregular supply as the country lacks systems to ensure regular supplies. Pain relief medications are recommended for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or those experiencing pain caused by malignant tumours.
3. Limited palliative care centres
Palliative care helps patients manage the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of its treatment especially if they are bedridden.
If one is bedridden, it increases chances of getting bedsores , leads to loss of muscle and endurance, blood clots etc
According to the Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association, an estimated 1.5 million Kenyans are in dire need of palliative care but less than 10 percent have access. It further states that there are about 71 palliative care centres in the country compared to over 2900 public and private health institutions.
4. Financial constraints
The cost of testing, investigations and treating cancer is way above the reach of many Kenyans. Due to unavailability of certain medical specialties in Kenya, cancer patients are sometimes forced to seek specialized treatment in foreign countries like India.
The cost of travel, accommodation and treatment may be too high for patients with little or no income.
5. Limited infrastructure
The National Cancer Institute of Kenya reports that there is also limited capacity at the county level hospitals to conduct pathological diagnosis of cancer cases due to few numbers of pathologists and lack of appropriate infrastructure.
Limited number of radiotherapy machines in public hospitals leads to long wait time for patients to get the much desired treatment. It is estimated that about 70% of cancer patients require radiotherapy.
6. Late diagnosis
Most of us trivialize symptoms of an ailment rather than entertain the thought that it could be something serious.
Many cancers do not cause symptoms in the early stages, couple this with poor health seeking behaviour among Kenyans and you have increased cases of late diagnosis. In such instances the cancer would most likely have advanced and spread to other places.
7. Side effects
Medications used for cancer treatment may lead to some side effects including increased risk of developing new and chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, disfigurement, loss of limbs etc.
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