Kenya Monday signed a multi-billion shilling deal with India to build East Africa’s biggest cancer hospital beginning early next year in a move that places healthcare at the centre of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
President Uhuru Kenyatta agreed with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fast track construction of the hospital whose establishment was first announced during Mr Kenyatta’s visit to Delhi last year.
Mr Kenyatta is hoping that establishment of the hospital will help save the Kenyan economy the billions of shillings that Kenyans spend every year flying out for cancer treatment in India.
Kenya’s Ministry of Health officials said the hospital will offer radiotherapy, chemotherapy, advanced surgery and bone marrow transplant services.
Kenya reports about 40,000 new cancer cases every year, but only has a few hospitals with the capacity to offer treatment.
Mr Modi, who also signed a deal to help Kenya manufacture generic drugs, said India would help Kenya become a regional medical hub through a combination of financial and technical assistance.
Cancer is the third leading killer disease in Kenya after pneumonia and malaria, according to the 2016 Economic Survey.
Cancer related deaths have been rising steadily in the past five years from 11,995 in 2010 to 12,574 in 2012 to a high of 15,714 last year, underlining its increasing burden on the economy.
A section of the proposed cancer hub, whose bed capacity and details are being worked out, will serve as a research and training centre for health professionals.
It is hoped that a new state of the art cancer treatment centre will ease pressure on the few public hospitals that offer cancer treatment, including Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital where machines have in the past broken down, hurting patients.
Most poor homes cannot afford healthcare in expensive private hospitals. Kenya has a relatively poor public health infrastructure plagued by acute shortage of doctors, a lack of essential drugs and medical equipment.
India is renowned for a relatively well-developed healthcare system that is backed by a large pool of generic drugs manufacturers, specialist doctors and highly equipped hospitals.
Indian drugs manufacturers have in the past decade come to dominate the ARVs market in developing nations, using the better priced generic medicine.
Kenya also opened a window for public-private partnerships with Indian firms to expand the range of affordable drugs manufactured locally, including anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs – a move that should further help Nairobi save billions in hard currency outflows.
Kenya spends $500 million (Sh50.5 billion) per year on imported drugs from India, according to Health principal secretary Nicholas Muraguri. “ARVs from India cost the country Sh22 billion every year,” he said.
Kenya is banking on the newly-signed medical manufacturing partnerships with Indian firms to strengthen the capacity of local pharmaceutical manufacturers to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
Kenya’s only ARVs manufacturer, Universal Corporation, has in the recent past proved incapable of meeting the country’s ever rising demand for the life-saving drugs.
Universal Corporation’s factory is based in Kikuyu, Kiambu County and received approval from WHO in 2011 to manufacture generic ARVs.
“One other thing we hope to do is create a pharmaceutical drug manufacturing capacity here in Kenya, with the support of India,” Mr Kenyatta said. Mr Modi’s visit saw Nairobi and Delhi ink partnership deals in defense, tourism, housing, immigration, education, agriculture and trade.
Exim bank of India issued a $29.9 million (Sh3 billion) credit line to revamp Eldoret-based textiles company Rivatex and another Sh1.5 billion to revamp Kenya’s Industrial Development Bank to boost small and medium-sized enterprises.
India is the second largest exporter of goods to Kenya, behind China which has in recent years been bullish on the continent. Bilateral trade between the two nations however remains titled in favour of the Asian nation.
Nairobi sold Sh8.9 billion worth of goods to Delhi last year even as East Africa’s largest economy took in Sh252.5 billion worth of goods from India.
Mr Modi expressed India’s interest in Kenya’s geothermal energy sector, which has 10,000 megawatts of unexploited capacity in its Rift valley steam belt.