Kenyans can breathe a sigh of relief after the Ministry of Health confirmed that ultra-modern CT scanners, and qualified personnel to handle them, are now available in public health facilities.
Director of Medical Services Jackson Kioko on Sunday said Kenyans no longer have to travel abroad for positron emission tomography (PET) scans since they are now available locally. This will reduce medical costs considerably.
The National Cancer Institute says a PET scan as a procedure in which a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein and a scanner used to make detailed, computerised pictures of areas in the body where the glucose is taken up.
Since cancer cells often take up more glucose than normal cells, the images can be used to detect them.
“The availability of PET scanning is a major milestone in the country,” Dr Kioko said.
“Travelling abroad has been a financial burden to Kenyans, and some of the households and families have been reduced to poverty because they spent a lot of money on treatment. The availability of the services in the country means that they can now access them at more affordable prices,” he added
The scan will help diagnose, not just cancer, but other complicated diseases as well. The equipment will also come in handy during emergency surgery, especially those involving victims of road accidents.
They will show the surgeons exactly where to operate, information that could make the difference between life and death.
"This will enable doctors to identify health threats at the cell level, giving them the best view and time of treatment for complex diseases such as cancer, heart diseases, brain and other central nervous system problems. This will improve the outcome of treatment,” he said.
Data from the Ministry of Health released early this year showed that 116 patients suffering from non-communicable diseases travel to India annually for treatment. Of these, cancer patients accounted for 57.8 per cent, those with renal diseases (16.8 per cent), cardiovascular diseases (7.8 per cent) and skeletal disorders (3.4 per cent).
Dr Kioko said the return of the radiographers and radiologists who attended a month’s training on using the machines is also a major step forward, since they can interpret the results and give accurate diagnoses.
Health Principal Secretary Peter Tum said with the machines and trained personnel, diseases can be diagonised early, leading to quick intervention and quick recovery of patients.
“With the machines, we will not be treating patients without accurate diagnoses. At least we now have people who will be able to interpret the results and recommend quick interventions,” Prof Tum said.
He said with equipment and staff, cases of patients — especially those with cancer and renal problems — waiting for long periods for treatment will be a thing of the past.
More than 50 radiographers and radiologists who returned from China on Sunday will be dispatched to county hospitals where the scanners have been installed.
The radiographers and radiologists will also be able to send images abroad for referrals without the need for a patient to travel, eliminating the burden of fares.
The government will install a total of 37 advanced CT technologies in public health facilities. Dr Kioko said they will complement the existing 90 CT scanners countrywide. There is one machine for two million Kenyans. So far, 18 are in public hospitals and 16 in the counties.
The fully functional CT centres at the moment are at the Thika Level Five Hospital (Kiambu County), the Iten County Referral Hospital (Elgeyo Marakwet County), the Kakamega County Referral Hospital, the Narok County Referral Hospital and Voi Level Five Hospital (Taita-Taveta County).
Lamu, Mombasa and Kapsabet counties are ready to officially launch the services.