One of the main hindrances in the fight against cancer in the country is the fact that many patients do not have access to early testing facilities and only know they are sick in the late stages of the disease.
For cervical cancer screening in particular, pap-smears – an invasive clinical procedure where cervical cells are sampled and tested – the examination is not affordable to many women especially in rural areas.
As a result, about 28,000 women succumb to the disease every year. This is out of the 41,000 new cases that are detected, making early diagnosis paramount.
But Mobile ODT, an Israeli technology company, is promising to boost this fight with the introduction of an inexpensive, non-invasive hand-held device that can help detect early signs of the disease.
The company has developed a device called the Mobile Colposcope which uses digital and regular magnification spectrums to detect suspect lesions or tumours in a patient.
The device, which resembles a point-of-sale scanner, is attached to a mobile phone (it is currently only compatible with the Android operating system) which is held 15 centimetres away from the patient’s body.
Images from the scan are then relayed to a special mobile app for interpretation.
“Our device is most popular in low resource settings such as Kenya because there is no need for specialised care in interpreting the images,” said Mr Curtis Peterson, the head of partnership at Mobile ODT.
“Kenya has really embraced technology and there is therefore no reason why this same technology should not be used to change healthcare especially of poor citizens.”
Mr Peterson explained that their device is merely the first step in the cancer screening process.
Patients whose images include signs of lesions and/or tumours will then be advised to undertake more specialised procedures that include biopsies to ascertain if indeed they are cancerous.
The device, which costs Sh150,000, also includes an application which allows medical practitioners doing the tests to send the images to their peers for a second opinion.
It is also connected to a central website that facilitates remote image analysis and explanations on how to improve diagnosis and treatment. The application can save up to 2,000 tests at any given time.
“The data is fed real time into a public website where a pie chart of those confirmed to be infected or with suspected lesions is generated,” said Mr Peterson.
Patients’ data is secured through encryption and only healthcare workers with access to the server have access.
Ten counties have already expressed interests in the technology with Embu having already installed it in their hospitals in preparation for going live in September.
The device, which was also piloted in Haiti, Guatemala, Botswana, Nepal, Mexico and the United States, was used during the ninth Stop Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancer conference held in Nairobi recently.
Over 1,000 women were screened during the event attended by nearly 20 African first ladies. Some of them received cryotherapy treatment, which is basically freezing of cancerous cells.
Miriam Njau, 35, was among the women screened.
“The technology not only gives a correct diagnosis but is also appropriate and timely treatment,” she told Digital Business. “I am glad I know my diagnosis in a clear, simple way.”
The Mobile ODT kit is “CE approved”, which is a legal requirement for medical equipment manufactures before they can introduce a medical device into the market. It also meets the essential requirements of a medical device in Europe.
Its CE certification only allows for cervical cancer testing but the technology can also screen for oral, anal and dermatological cancers. It is also approved by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Kenya.
This machine is the latest technological advancement in Kenya which promises a better life for women suffering with cancer. Early this year, the ministry of Health unveiled a diagnosis machine called Digene Hybrid which specifically looks for the presence of certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) , which predispose women to cervical cancer.
Research has shown that the pap-smear test, often the first step in cervical cancer diagnostics, can fail to find abnormal cells that need frequently treatment.
The reliability of the test is highly influenced by the quality of samples collected and the skill of the person examining the results. If any of the two are inadequate, then the results will be compromised.
The digital HPV DNA testing machine, which is being backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is available at the Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative offices and Nairobi Hospital.
The government is also piloting the use of the technology in Kitui, where the machine is being used to collect data on the prevalence of cervical cancer.
Once the pilot project is completed, the machine will be deployed to public hospitals.
It is hoped that the rapid adoption of digital testing machines will prevent up to 80 per cent of cervical cancer cases in countries like Kenya as has happened in the developed world.