Kenyans spend Sh8bn yearly on cancer treatment abroad

Kenyans are spending Sh8 billion every year in seeking cancer treatment in India, South Africa and Dubai.

Health secretary James Macharia said rising cases of non-communicable diseases like cancer, heart and kidney ailments are hitting the economy hard with 7,000 patients spending billions of shillings in foreign countries. Of these, 5,600 are cancer patients.

‘‘This must be reversed. We are talking with doctors to see ways of bringing into Kenya latest technologies like the Pet scan for cancer,’’ he said during the recent 24-hour cancer relay held in Nairobi.

The relay, organised by Kenya Cancer Association (KenCasa), aimed to raise Sh300 million to treat 30 adults and 10 children with cancer from each county.

Misdiagnosis, long waiting periods before one receives treatment and few oncologists have forced many Kenyans to seek alternative treatment in foreign countries.

Despite the cost of drugs being cheaper in countries like India, patients and their care givers have to incur high travel expenses including visa fees, air fare and also pay for accommodation.

Christina Owino, whose husband is battling the rare skin and muscle cancer, said a Kenyan oncologist advised them to seek treatment in India.

‘‘It’s much cheaper compared to Kenya. I spent Sh540,000 on all tests including a Pet scan and two cycles of chemotherapy treatment. What was expensive was accommodation, for the two months that we were there we spent Sh150,000 excluding food expenses,’’ she said.

Kenya imports cancer drugs and after suppliers add their profit margins the prices go up beyond the reach of many.

Mr Macharia said the government was in talks with investors to mitigate the high cost of treatment and increase the number of cancer treatment centres. The cancer burden is rising in Kenya at an alarming rate. It is estimated that 28,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

The Economic Survey 2014 shows that registered deaths from cancer in 2013 stood at 13,720. However, Mr Macharia said 70 people die daily from the disease, translating to 25,550 deaths, meaning that there are unregistered cancer-related deaths.

‘‘These high death rates are because of late presentation; by the time you show up in hospital it’s too late, wrong diagnosis where some clinicians don’t think cancer when someone comes in with a common cold, and the assumption that you can’t have cancer and at that time it’s spreading,’’ said David Makumi, the chairperson of KenCasa.