Increasing access to cancer surgery will improve cancer care and outcomes

Across the world there is an increasing incidence and mortality of cancers, particularly in low and middle income countries, such as Kenya.

The recent Lancet commission on cancer in sub- Saharan Africa in 2021, showed that over the past 30 years, there has been a doubling in cancer incidence, with over half a million deaths in 2020.

This number is predicted to double by 2030 thus underscoring a need for urgent action. This incidence may be attributed to a combination of factors such as an increase in life expectancy combined with the adoption of unhealthy dietary habits, consumption of tobacco and alcohol and lack of physical exercise and environmental factors and exposure, infections (a quarter of cancers in Africa are associated with infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and c and human papilloma virus) and genetics.

The Health Cabinet Secretary, H.E, Susan Nakhumicha, while reflecting on the recently released ‘Status of Cancer in Kenya Report’ by the National Cancer Institute of Kenya, noted that there are 27,000 cancer related deaths recorded every year in Kenya, with about 75 deaths a day.

The leading cause of cancer deaths are esophageal, followed by cervix, breast and liver cancers. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Kenya, with an annual incidence of about 6,000 new cases and 2,500 cancer-related deaths.

The government of Kenya has made considerable strides in improving access to cancer services and has launched many initiatives to address this rising cancer burden. The national hospital insurance fund now covers some of the costs of treatment such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

There have been commendable efforts to decentralize access to chemotherapy, having established 10 fully functional county-level chemotherapy centers, and radiotherapy services with the development of regional comprehensive cancer centers in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Garissa. There has also been an increase in the diagnostic equipment in a number of counties, including CT-Scans, ultrasonography, and mammography etc.

There has been an expansion of enabling policy with the launch of the New Cancer Control Strategy 2017-2022, by the Ministry of Health and its current ongoing revision. This is a national effort to address the growing burden of the disease in the country.

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