Public Hospitals Need More Radiotherapy Machines to Prevent Cancer Deaths

By Lynnet Okumu / Published February 2, 2022 | 10:24 am




KEY POINTS

The main radiotherapy machine at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) has been disabled for a month, leaving thousands of cancer patients without services.


Cancer Radiotherapy

KEY TAKEAWAYS


Strengthening the capacity of the primary health system in the country is another major boost in preventing, detecting, and promptly treating most of these cancers, as this will ultimately save lives and minimize health care costs.


The latest incident of radiotherapy machine breakage at Kenyatta National Hospital has forced several cancer patients to seek radiotherapy services from private facilities that charge extra high for the services.

The main radiotherapy machine has been disabled for a month, leaving thousands of cancer patients without services.

Many patients who prefer KNH because it is cheaper have been sitting on benches waiting for the equipment to be repaired. Some of them are alone and do not even have a place to stay.

The hospital has been offering cancer treatment at a subsided rate. A single radiotherapy session at the hospital costs only between 500 to 1 shillings as compared to private hospitals which charge between 5,000 and 10,000 shillings.

The machine that initially served 200 patients daily before the outbreak of Covid-19, currently serves 100.

This is not the first time that cancer patients in Kenya are faced with such a dilemma of the cancer machine breaking down at the KNH.

Many patients have died in queues in the past while others slept in corridors waiting for treatment that often comes much later.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 29 percent of patients in 2019 missed or delayed cancer treatment. The main barriers to treatment were accommodation while in Nairobi, and transport to and from the hospital.

Cancer cases outweigh the treatment capacity of KNH’s machine, which is overstretched after being fully booked for the whole year.

Most patients undergo many sessions of both radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Once a patient begins radiotherapy treatment, they must undergo 25 sessions continuously, which are to be administered on weekdays.

Now imagine a case where the hospital is attending to over 200 patients daily using one machine, and each requires 25 sessions. The machines can never rest because the demand for the services is very high.

Moreover, the most worrying trend is the fact that a patient stays on a machine for 30 minutes instead of three minutes per session.

What about the magnitude of the effects of non-compliance with radiation therapy? This is a clear indicator for other risk factors that could negatively affect outcomes.

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Up to now, the issue at hand is still unresolved and nobody is talking about it. How ironic is it that majority of Kenyans have to travel to Nairobi to seek treatment in one hospital that has just one machine?

Cancer is the second leading cause of death from non-communicable diseases, and the number of cases is rising rapidly. The illness affects Kenyans of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds but has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable groups.

Cervical cancer makes up the largest portion of cancer cases (nearly 12percent) followed by breast cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma, esophageal, and prostate cancer.

The Kenyan government has stepped up its response to the mounting threat of cancer, but much more needs to be done, especially concerning the issue of cancer treatment machines in the country.

The government and various non -governmental organizations have for a very long time focused on improving health-seeking behavior by raising awareness and knowledge of cancer, lowering barriers to care, strengthening the quality of care, ensuring access to supportive counseling, and urging households to enroll early in Kenya’s National Hospital Insurance Fund, which is a good thing.

What happens now after you’ve done all these,  and find out you have cancer but you cannot afford the cost of treatment at the private hospitals?

It’s time for the stakeholders to start doing something about this. Kenya needs more Radiotherapy machines in public hospitals, not just in the capital, but around the different counties.

Meanwhile, as the focus stretches towards increasing the number of machines in the country, the government should also continue promoting financial protection by progressively expanding the benefits package to cover more interventions and more people over time and identifying ways to cover non-medical costs which can be considerable.

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Strengthening the capacity of the primary health system in the country is another major boost in preventing, detecting, and promptly treating most of these cancers, as this will ultimately save lives and minimize health care costs.

Let us also continue to empower cancer survivors and family members to play a critical role in the cancer journey, advocating for patients, and establishing support groups to mitigate fears and foster solidarity.






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