Cancer organisations have raised the alarm over the lack of treatment centres in counties, yet the disease is increasingly moving away from urban centres.
Hospitals in Nairobi have invested heavily in cancer machines, but other regions have been largely ignored.
David Makumi, chairman of Kenya Network of Cancer Organisations (Kenco), says the government announced about 10 years ago that it intended to set up radiotherapy treatment centres outside Nairobi in four counties but none exists, so far.
Kenyatta National Hospital is the only government health facility with the equipment and top private hospitals — even those with satellite clinics outside Nairobi — have built radiotherapy centres within the city.
Dr Joseph Kibachio, head of the Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) department at the Health ministry says although KNH is still the only public health facility with radiotherapy machines, plans are at an advanced stage to install a machine at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret.
“The bunker that will hold the machine has already been constructed. So the only thing remaining is the machine that will come soon,” says Dr Kibachio.
Eldoret Hospital, which launched a cancer centre in partnership with South Africa-based Equra Health is the only facility serving patients in western Kenya.
“We are in a dire situation. We have 10 machines concentrated in Nairobi yet only one is out there. This imbalance is not good for our patients,” says Mr Makumi.
He says for patients living far away from treatment centres, having a National Hospital Insurance Fund cover alone is not enough.
“They are usually forced to pay for accommodation, transport and other maintenance expenses when they travel to Nairobi to seek treatment. Those without the finances or relatives willing to accommodate them in the city sometimes give up and die.”
“And when they are all alone in the city, they lose the social support they would have enjoyed back home. Being around loved ones makes coping with cancer much easier.”
Aside from radiotherapy equipment, chemotherapy centres are also few in counties outside major towns due to the limited number of oncologists in Kenya who mostly work in Nairobi.
To address this challenge, Mr Makumi noted that low cadre health workers such as nurses and clinical officers available in most county hospitals could be trained on how to effectively administer cancer drugs.
“But these clinicians have to work under an oncologist who can perhaps travel once a month to a county facility since they are the only ones that can plan treatment courses for patients,” he says.
The envisaged regional cancer centres manned by the national government will be within existing facilities including Coast General Hospital (Mombasa), Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (Eldoret), Kisii County Referral Hospital and Nyeri General Hospital.
But county governments are also tapping public-private partnerships to establish new centres in their jurisdictions.