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Agony of high cost of cancer treatment, care in Kenya


The cost of treating cancer remains way above the reach of most households in Kenya. GRAPHIC| CHRISPUS BARGORETT

The cost of treating cancer remains way above the reach of most households in Kenya, a new survey showed, dealing a blow to efforts to save the lives of thousands of patients suffering from the disease.

A survey in three cancer centres in Nairobi including state-run Kenyatta National Hospital (KHN), and the privately-owned Nairobi Hospital and Aga Khan University Hospital revealed deep financial strain for households with patients suffering from the four main strains of the disease — cervical, breast, esophageal and prostate cancer.

It costs between Sh172,000 and Sh759,000 to treat cervical cancer without surgery in Kenya and Sh672,000 to Sh1.25million if one undergoes an operation, according to researchers affiliated to the National Cancer Control Programme and the National Cancer Institute, Kenya.

Patients seeking basic treatment for breast cancer pay between Sh175,200 and Sh1.98 million while the cost shoots up to between Sh758,000 and Sh2.48 million when surgery — which would be either a lumpectomy, quadrantectomy, partial mastectomy, or segmental mastectomy — is involved.

Treating prostate cancer in Kenya costs between Sh138,000 and Sh1.21 million while esophageal cancer costs between Sh1 million and Sh126,000.

These costs exclude supportive and rehabilitative care and further investigations undertaken within treatment.

Send samples abroad

“With the average annual wage of Sh644,800, the cost of cancer treatment in Kenya is high. Cost reduction and cost-effective financing models should be explored to reduce the economic impact on livelihoods and households,” the study team concluded.

Add on costs make long-term cancer treatment quiet strenuous. For example, testing for breast cancer costs one about Sh15,200 at Pathologists Lancet Kenya. The tests are critical because they help an oncologist to ascertain if hormonal treatment would work to tame the disease or not.

To check for thyroid cancer recurrence by testing for a protein known as thyroglobulin, patients pay Sh23,000 and even more should they opt to send samples abroad.

In its Globocan 2018 report, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said that 47,887 Kenyans get cancer every year and 32,987 die from the disease.

The most common is breast cancer with 5,985 women and men diagnosed every year compared to 2,864 prostate cases.

The report further showed that oesophagus cancer has become the top killer in Kenya, claiming 4,354 lives every year and overtaking cervix, breast, stomach and prostate cancer.

More Kenyan women die from cancer than men, the WHO agency said. The disease claims 18,772 women in Kenya annually compared to 14,215 men.

Globally, most people die from lung cancer, which is linked to smoking, followed by colorectal, liver and breast types.

Bearing biggest burden

However, low-income countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are bearing the biggest burden of the disease due to lack of awareness, misdiagnosis, late presentation to hospitals and the high cost of treatment.

Late diagnosis of new cancers and failure to promptly spot recurrences in those surviving the disease contribute to premature deaths in Kenya.

The Health ministry estimates that 70 to 80 per cent of the cancers are diagnosed in late stages when the disease has burrowed through major body organs, making it incurable.

For most patients, the cost of treating cancer is the biggest barrier to accessing treatment. Robai Gakunga of Research Triangle International said that 46.3 per cent of patients with breast and cervical cancer cited cost as their biggest impediment.

“For women with breast cancer 53 per cent reported they had to forgo care because of cost while 91 per cent said their diagnosis impacted their household and financial wellbeing,” said Ms Gakunga.

She added that about 44 per cent of women who took part in the research and have insurance coverage indicated that reimbursement for medical costs was less than they expected.