A Bill under scrutiny in the Senate has proposed that all 47 counties set up cancer centres as part of the campaign to tame the spread of the disease. This will also reduce the burden borne by the largest public referral institution, Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
The Cancer Prevention and Control (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which is before the Senate’s Standing Committee on Health, provides that every county should establish cancer centres and take charge in ensuring prevention, treatment and control of the disease.
The new law requires counties to shoulder most responsibility in the fight against cancer, Kenya’s third top-killer disease after pneumonia and malaria. Plans to build centres in Kisii, Nyeri, Mombasa and Nakuru are already under way.
Healthcare is a devolved function under the Kenyan Constitution, which bestows on county governments the responsibility of providing medical care.
“The principal object of this Bill is to amend the Cancer Prevention and Control Act to provide for additional functions of county governments in the prevention and treatment of cancer. The county governments shall be responsible for the prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and control of cancer within the county,” reads the Bill.
“The Bill also seeks to establish a county cancer centre in each county to provide specialised medical services related to cancer, including screening, diagnostic, treatment, collection of data on cancer within the county and other cancer support services such as palliative, counselling and rehabilitation services.”
Kenya lacks adequate equipment and cancer specialists to tackle the disease.
The equipment at KNH is prone to frequent breakdowns. Kenya boasts of 12 radiotherapy machines in total, of which KNH has three while the rest are in private hospitals. The need for equipment and specialist doctors in health units has been amplified by the growing cancer cases, especially among the poor.
“Lack of awareness regarding cancer and late presentation is the greatest challenge we have locally. And this is because health centers are not equipped well to make diagnosis and rarely consider cancer,” said Dr Esther Munyoro, who co-ordinates the palliative care unit at KNH.
“We are better placed as a country if we have these centres in the counties. The government is conducting retraining of health workers to equip them with the necessary skills required to flag these cases during their early stages right from the centres in the rural areas,” said Dr Munyoro.
According to the latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), about 16,953 people died from cancer in 2017.