We should invest more in cancer control to save lives and cut costs

Thursday February 4 2016

Mrs Janet Kanini Ikua recounts her experience as a cancer victim at the Carnivore Grounds in Nairobi on November 8, 2015.

Mrs Janet Kanini Ikua recounts her experience as a cancer victim at the Carnivore Grounds in Nairobi on November 8, 2015. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

More often than not, we read stories of Kenyans travelling to India to seek specialised medical care, especially for cancer.

The reasons vary but it’s mainly due to lack of specialised equipment and facilities locally.

One such example is that of Ms Janet Kanini Ikua, a media professional who was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer last year.

And like thousands of Kenyans, the young mother of two had to travel thousands of kilometres to India for a diagnosis and treatment because there was no PET MRI scanner available locally to diagnose her condition.

It is estimated that more than 10,000 Kenyans travel abroad each year, seeking treatment for various ailments.

Increasingly, they travel to get cancer treatment. This costs the economy about Sh10 billion annually.

The rising cases of cancer have left the disease ranking as the third biggest mortality threat to the country, with an estimated 22,000 Kenyans dying annually from various forms of cancer.

Globally, at least 8.2 million people die from cancer each year, half of whom die prematurely. While we appreciate the efforts the government and private sectors are taking to deal with the cancer menace, the fact that we have few well-equipped facilities that can take care of cancer patients is, in itself, worrying.


Late last year, the governments of Kenya and India agreed to partner to encourage investors in India’s health sector to invest in Kenya to cut down on the expenses Kenyan patients incur while seeking medical attention overseas.

This is a welcome move that once realised, will ease the burden of cancer for many patients in Kenya.

As a country, we must invest in research, advocacy, prevention and treatment of all forms of cancers if we are to win this war. Cancer knows no boundaries.

As we mark this year’s World Cancer Day, the clarion call is “We can. I can.”  This is an opportunity for us to spread the word and raise cancer awareness.

It is also a chance for all of us as a nation to collectively examine cancer control strategies and identify opportunities that will hasten improvement.

The goal is to ensure fewer people develop cancer, more people are successfully treated and that there is a better quality of life for people during treatment and beyond.

The Union of International Cancer Control, which organises World Cancer Day celebrations has identified several ways in which we can all make a difference in the fight against cancer.

For the cancer patients, take action by speaking out, share your story, take control of your cancer journey, ask for support whenever you need it, be yourself, love and be loved.

Janet has taken this approach and is in control of her cancer journey, which I believe has helped in easing the burden.

Many of us have been following her journey, which she has every so often shared on her social media platforms.

The fact that she has resolved to courageously fight the disease, is determined to live, educate and encourage as many people as possible is worth emulating.

For those free of cancer, let us make healthy lifestyle choices, understand that early detection saves lives, ask for support whenever we need it if we are taking care of a cancer patient, support others, love and be loved.

At a collective level let us inspire action, create healthy environments, challenge perceptions, improve access to cancer care, build a quality workforce, mobilise our networks to drive progress, shape policy change, make the case for investing in cancer control and work together for increased impact.

The writer is a trustee of the Safaricom Foundation [email protected]