We Need To Close The Cancer Care Gap Before It Is Too Late

by Business Watch Team

Kenya, like the rest of the world, faces a monumental challenge: a formidable cancer care gap that pervades the country’s healthcare system. This void manifests in four critical domains, each crying out for immediate attention and a transformative overhaul: the funding gap, the awareness gap, the healthcare worker capacity gap, and the community support gap.

The fiscal deficit in cancer care financing in Kenya emerges as perhaps the most pressing concern, given its potential to alleviate other systemic issues. Despite the growing number of cancer cases, the financial commitment to combating the epidemic remains insufficient. As a result, the healthcare system faces an acute shortage of critical resources, limiting its ability to provide timely and effective interventions.

This situation is exacerbated by a shortage of healthcare workers, a problem that many developing countries face. A severe shortage of healthcare professionals with specialized expertise in cancer care has put the healthcare system under strain. According to a recent report from Kenya’s National Cancer Institute, there aren’t enough oncologists, oncology nurses, or oncology pharmacists to handle the disease burden. The growing demand for specialized care far outstrips the available supply, resulting in longer wait times and fewer treatment options for those in immediate need.

Furthermore, the lack of healthcare facilities capable of handling cancer diagnosis and treatment exacerbates the crisis. Kenya had only 19 external beam radiation machines as of 2022, even though 42 were required. Only eight of the available ones are in public hospitals, contributing to long wait times for this critical treatment option. Patients who choose private healthcare frequently face prohibitively high costs, posing an additional barrier to accessing necessary care.

In addition to the challenges in physical infrastructure, the lack of psychosocial support exacerbates the difficulties in cancer treatment, causing patients and their families to suffer profound mental anguish. Stigma, misconceptions, and cultural beliefs about cancer contribute to an environment in which people are hesitant to seek help, disclose their illnesses, or support affected family members.

This lack of psychosocial support mechanisms worsens the emotional and mental toll on patients and their families, impeding their ability to deal with the challenges of a cancer diagnosis. Addressing this multifaceted gap requires a comprehensive approach that includes stigma reduction, community education initiatives, and the formation of strong support networks to provide much-needed emotional support.

The lack of community support is exacerbated by the public’s lack of understanding of cancer and its symptoms. Cancer is frequently portrayed as a lifestyle disease, making it difficult to dispel the widely held belief that cancer, including pediatric cases, is not always the result of poor decisions. Furthermore, many rural residents remain unaware of the warning signs of cancer, resulting in delayed diagnoses and limited treatment options. In a country with uneven information dissemination, a lack of awareness perpetuates an ongoing cycle of ignorance, significantly undermining the effectiveness of public health campaigns.

Having said that, it is critical to emphasize that to address the cancer care gap, Kenya must pool its resources, both financial and human, and work together to bridge these pervasive divides. The urgency of the situation necessitates a united front from international stakeholders, philanthropic organizations, and governments, fostering a collaborative commitment to bringing about meaningful change.

Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital, for example, is working to close these gaps through the Kenya Childhood Cancer Programme, which raises funds for free diagnosis and treatment for children all over the country. Gertrude raises funds for diagnosis and treatment through initiatives such as the annual run and golf tournament, as well as free training for healthcare workers to better detect and treat childhood cancer cases. Last year alone, we covered the cost of treatment for 40 children through these charity initiatives, with the funds also covering incidentals for family members who accompany their children to the oncology center, as well as psychological support.

This year, we are holding the cancer walk in March and aim to raise funds that will go a long way in supporting children with cancer access to diagnosis and treatment at no cost. The walk will be a great opportunity to enjoy a day of outdoor activity, while they contribute to the fight against childhood cancer.

To summarize, if we are to win, we will need many more stakeholders to join the fight, particularly given the country’s overall cancer burden. Only through collaborative efforts will Kenya be able to navigate this difficult terrain and provide its citizens with the comprehensive care and support required in the face of the cancer care gap. 

Related Content: Have You Had Your Cervical Cancer Testing Yet?

The writer, Dr. Doreen Karimi, is a Haemato-oncologist at Gertrudes Children’s Hospital dkarimi@gerties.org

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