Agony as life-saving machines break down at KNH

Sunday January 14 2018

A technician works on a bunker at Kenyatta National Hospital’s Cancer Unit. Key equipment for diagnosis and treatment and laundry at KNH have broken down. PHOTO | FILE


At least two key machines have broken down at Kenyatta National Hospital, leaving doctors with limited options for diagnosing illnesses and treating patients at the facility.

The country’s largest public referral facility has not had a functioning magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan and a laparoscopy tower machine for the last one year, and have also been outsourcing laundry services to the nearby Nairobi Hospital for about three months, after their machines broke down in September last year. They also do not have skin grafting machines.

The most affected by these breakdowns are patients, among them Paul, who was diagnosed with bladder cancer stage four in 2014. Since then, he has been faithfully attending weekly clinics at Kenyatta National Hospital.

Like many of the patients whose check-up clinics are scheduled for Wednesdays and Thursdays, Paul also had to undergo routine minor surgery every four to five months to remove cancerous tumours in his bladder.


“I underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy in 2015 to remove the tumours but they recurred hence doctors recommended surgery every time the tumours recurred,” narrates Paul.


The surgery, being non-invasive, requires the use of a specialised machine known as a laparoscopy tower. But Paul and four other patients with similar complications have not been able to receive these surgical services at KNH for almost one-and-a-half years since the camera in the laparoscopy machine broke down in 2016.

Patients who have to undergo closed surgery, like that performed on bladder cancer patients, have had to seek the treatment in rather costly private facilities.

“The last time I went to KNH, the  attending doctor told me he had borrowed the camera from another hospital to conduct the surgery. When I went for the service again in subsequent months, the doctor said he could not borrow the camera for the second time hence referring me,” noted Paul.

Like Paul, a number of patients seeking different services at KNH have been turned away.


Paul and three other patients were then referred to a private hospital where the costs of undergoing the non-invasive surgery cost between Sh200,000 and Sh340,000.

“In the first operation, NHIF paid about 65 per cent of the bill. In the second surgery, which was three months apart, it only footed about 40 per cent, leaving the larger chunk of costs to me,” recalls Paul, whose bill at KNH never surpassed Sh30,000.

Although the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) agreed to foot part of the bill that the patients incurred at the private facility, the state insurer declined to pay others.

Currently, there is only one such machine in KNH and none other in a public facility in the country.

A surgical procedure is always a stressful affair for the patient. For this reason, laparoscopy uses a minimally invasive surgical approach, which requires shorter recovery time for the patient. In this way, the patient is able to return to normal life faster.

The expected success of procedures are also equivalent to or greater than that of open surgery.


The cost of a complete single laparoscopy tower is estimated to be Sh6 million. The equipment that has broken down is used for closed surgery at the hospital’s elective theatre. It is also used in surgical procedures involving gynaecology, spinal endoscopy among others.

“I have been suffering because the tumours lead to bleeding which eventually cause anaemia. This only means that if I do not have the tumours removed, I will need blood transfusion,” said Paul.

The MRI machine broke down in August last year, making it impossible for doctors at the hospital to conduct any such scans, despite offering the most affordable rates.

On average, an MRI scan costs between Sh16,000 to Sh33,000. At KNH, this services is offered at Sh10,000.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside part of the body.

Used low-field MRI machines can be bought for as low as Sh15 million and as high as Sh300 million.

The breakdown of laundry machines left staff in that department with the daunting task of ferrying dirty laundry every day to Nairobi Hospital for cleaning for three months.

“The three laundry machines and driers had all stalled in September. One is still down,” said a hospital staff working in the department.