Cancer is the 3rd highest cause of morbidity in Kenya (7% of deaths per year), after infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases. Lymphoma (51.3 %), Leukemia (21.3%), Neuroblastoma (8.5%) and Rhabdomysarcoma (5.2%) are the most common childhood cancers in Kenya. Compared to other studies, the frequency of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease and Rhabdomysarcoma appear to have increased.
Different cancers take different periods to treat. While kidney cancers take a shorter time (about 3-6 months) to treat, leukemia or Lymph node cancers go up to 2 years. Three quarters of children cancers in Kenya are curable if detected in good time and correct treatment and supportive care during cancer treatment is provided. 1 in 10 children survive cancer in Kenya compared to 7 in 10 in the developed countries.
The number of radiology centers in Kenya is only four all located in Nairobi (Kenyatta National Hospital, MP Shah, Nairobi Hospital, and Aga Khan). According to past researches, the human capacity for childhood cancers treatment in Kenya (public sector) stands at less than five pediatric oncologists.
The various challenges facing childhood cancers are:
· Poor access to care for patients in remote/ rural areas
· Limited specialist treatment centers
· Prohibitive cost of anti-cancer drugs
· Low levels of awareness in clinicians and public
Cost of treatment varies, with public hospitals charging about kshs.150,000, while private facilities ask for about five to six times the amount.
Kenya has a national health insurance plan. The National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) covers a substantial portion of in-patient hospital fees in government hospitals, but lacks coverage for outpatient fees. Fees for enrolling in NHIF range from less than US$ 5 per month to around US$ 25 per month but fewer than 10% of the population is enrolled. Enrollment in NHIF takes at least 2 months between enrollment and initiation, a delay that frequently encompasses a critical period for a newly diagnosed cancer patient.
With the increment in the NHIF fees beckoning, this would raise a big financial burden for both parents of the children considering most are from poor backgrounds and the supporting organisation as well. The raise would mean payment of NHIF fees from KES 1,920 per year to about KES 6,000 per year which is quite a big increase.
Creation of awareness on childhood cancers needs to be a priority to all and should be done fast in Kenya as well as globally. Let’s all Act Now for the kids.
Childhood cancer accounted for 15% of cancer admissions at KNH (1998-2008)
1 in 10 children survive cancer in Kenya (7 in 10 in developed countries)
- Challenges in childhood cancer care: poor access to care for patients in remote/rural areas; limited specialist treatment centers; prohibitive cost of anti-cancer drugs; low levels of awareness in clinicians and public;
- Possible signs of childhood cancer: lumps/swellings; unexplained weakness or paleness; easy bruising/nose or gum bleeding; persistent unexplained fever/illness; constant pain; frequent headaches, often with vomiting; sudden eye or vision changes; sudden unexplained weight loss; limping/inability to walk properly.
Let us act now to create awareness on childhood cancer, the earlier you know about it the higher the possibility of curing the cancer.