When Kenya crossed the threshold to become a low-middle-income country four years ago following the rebasing of its national accounts, including gross domestic product and gross national income, a new health burden began to rise.
The economic transition has brought with it a gradual increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer.
It is one of the major NCDs and, combined with cardiovascular, diabetes mellitus and chronic respiratory diseases, causes over 60 percent of global mortality annually.
Cancer is the third cause of death in Kenya, followed by infectious and cardiovascular diseases, with nearly 48,000 cases diagnosed each year and close to 33,000 related deaths reported annually.
The top five cancers in Kenya, include breast, cervical, oesophageal, prostate and colorectal with a mortality of 66 per 100,000 people last year.
This rising burden of cancer is fuelled, to a great extent, by shared behavioural risk factors influenced by economic transition, rapid urbanisation and adoption of unhealthy lifestyles coupled with an increased exposure to environmental carcinogens.
The global age-standardised incidence rate for cancer is 175.5 per 100,000 while the risk of developing the disease before age 75 is 31.6 percent and that of dying from it before then 27.2 percent.
To effectively carry out cancer prevention and control, there has to be a multi-sectoral and -disciplinary approach.
The Kenya National Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases 2015-2020 and the Kenya Vision 2030 social pillar are aimed at improving the quality of life of all Kenyans.
These objectives are in line with Article 43 of the Constitution, which confers on every person the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including healthcare.
To address this growing cancer burden, the Ministry of Health is implementing the National Cancer Control Strategy 2017-2022 as the unifying framework to guide all stakeholders involved in cancer prevention and control.
The strategy prioritises five key pillars critical to holistic cancer prevention and control: Prevention; screening and early detection; diagnosis, registration and surveillance; treatment, palliative care and survivorship; coordination, partnership and financing; and monitoring, evaluation and research.
These interventions are being undertaken by the national and county governments in collaboration with other non-state actors to reduce the incidence of cancer and improve the quality of life for patients.
To enhance access to essential cancer management services, the ministry has supported the setting up of chemotherapy units in 10 counties by providing them with equipment and drugs.
This is besides training health workers on safe handling of chemotherapy drugs, a move that will decongest the two main national referral hospitals.
The ministry is also expanding the country’s capacity through the establishment of radiotherapy bunkers across three regional cancer centres this financial year in a bid to establish four comprehensive cancer management centres by 2022.
Other accomplished measures within the strategy are the development of education material to build capacity for health workers and citizens, mainstreaming NCDs and cancer screening to other health services; and development of physical activity action plans.
The other is operationalising a national cancer registry and a cancer reference laboratory to improve reporting and data quality on cancer cases as well as epidemiological analysis of region-specific risk factors.
A notable setback in the fight against cancer has been the low uptake of screening and early detection services.
To address this, “National Cancer Screening Guidelines” were launched this month to provide a standard framework for all stakeholders to scale up screening and early detection.
The message, “Cancer screening and early detection saves lives”, needs to reach all the households.
Mrs Kariuki is the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Health