The fresh grave of yet another cancer victim lies outside a homestead in Kaptebeswet Ward in Kericho County.
In it lies the remains of Alice Koech, who died last month, barely two months after the government promised to bring cancer treatment closer to South Rift residents, by installing a new chemotherapy machine at Longisa County Referral Hospital in Bomet County.
Ms Koech died while undergoing treatment for head and neck cancer at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) in Eldoret.
The 60-year-old, who also had a huge endometrial mass, had been ailing since last July, and her family was willing to go to great lengths to keep her alive, moving from one hospital to another and sparing no shilling in search of healing.
However, their efforts were no match for the cancer that was diagnosed late and Ms Koech succumbed, leaving behind a mountain of unsettled debts that were taken to pay for her chemotherapy and other medical services.
The same script plays in other homes in the region, as families try to snatch their kin from the jaws of cancer.
Although the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) settles some of the costs of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, it is hardly ever enough to save families from impoverishment.
In one such home in Kimulot, Konoin Sub-county in Bomet, 23-year-old Nickson Ngetich, a multiple myeloma patient, stares into the distance, looking for the elusive hope of treatment in the horizon.
He needs Sh10 million to undergo a bone marrow transplant in India, but his family cannot raise the amount.
Before he fell sick, he was his family’s hope for financial breakthrough, having been the first to go to university. Then cancer came knocking.
His problems began last December when he started feeling weak.
Doctors said it was because his blood levels were low and prescribed medicine, but it didn’t help.
He was later referred to a haematologist (blood specialist) at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, who discovered that his bone marrow was only half functional.
He needed a new bone marrow, and he could only get a transplant in India, at a cost that is beyond the reach of his parents, who are peasant farmers.
Thus, the disillusioned second-year Business Management and Information Technology student at Kabarak University bides his time at home, hoping that help will come sooner rather than later.
“I’m still weak. I get my blood replenished at local hospitals,” he says.
His father David Kering says the family has used up all available resources.
“We have been struggling to pay his fees and now we are staring at an impossible medical bill.
“Our neighbours and well-wishers have chipped in but we are a long way from the required Sh10 million,” says the distraught man.
The plight of cancer patients in the South Rift region caught the attention of both the national and county governments, who promised to bring cancer treatment services closer to the people.
To this end, Longisa County Referral Hospital was earmarked for elevation into a cancer treatment centre to serve patients in the South Rift and South Nyanza regions and reduce the costs they incur while seeking treatment further afield.
“Cancer patients in rural areas do not have to travel to Nairobi for chemotherapy.
“It is possible to make treatment available in rural health facilities to ease the burden for patients and their families.
“People do not have to travel for 200 kilometres to access treatment,” said Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki in mid-February while promising a chemotherapy machine to serve patients from Bomet, Kericho, Narok, Kisii and Nyamira counties, as part of the national universal health coverage plan.
Ms Kariuki said that efforts were being made to reduce the costs of managing cancer, which is affecting increasingly more people, with more than 16,000 dead in 2017, according to the latest figures from the Economic Survey 2018.
For those in the South Rift, grief and pain reigns supreme as the disease continues to ravage their loved ones, and as they wait for cancer therapy to be brought closer home to ease the burden of seeking treatment.