Cancer patients dilemma as radiotherapy machine breaks

Thursday, January 6th, 2022 13:30 | By
A cancer patient during a radiotherapy session. Photo/Courtesy

Cancer patients at the Kenyatta National Hospital are now being forced to seek radiotherapy services from private facilities after the main machine broke down.

Consequently, the Radiotherapy Centre at Kenya and East Africa’s premier public hospital has been shut down, adding more pain to cancer patients seeking radiation services.

The machine that initially served 200 patients daily  before the outbreak of Covid-19, currently serves 100. 

KNH has been the main hope for cancer patients, who cannot afford to pay for treatment in alternative private health facilities.

A cancer caregiver at the facility  who sought anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, painted a grim picture of the situation.

“Imagine a patient who is supposed to attend 25 sessions weekly as part of the treatment regime and survival, landing at the hospital’s casualty lounge for the first time where he is kept without being served for 24 hours,” the worker intimated.

When People Daily team visited the hospital,there was a patient, who had travelled all the way from Webuye in Bungoma county last weekend in readiness to begin her radiotherapy sessions but was still stranded at the facility.

Positive results

“She had received a call from the hospital as a norm to begin her treatment yesterday following positive results that she had cervical cancer, but now since the radiotherapy machine has broken down, she has not started the therapy,” the source intimated even as the hospital’s top management remained mute over the matter.

Efforts to reach the hospital chief executive Dr Evanson Kamuri bore little fruit.Text messages sent to him remained unanswered even by the time of going to press.

Another cervical cancer patient who has been attending radio and chemotherapy treatment had to be stopped halfway and told that his treatment would only resume after the machine has been repaired.

This is despite the risks that befall patients who miss radiation therapy sessions.

“This challenge of patients missing out on radiotherapy sessions started last year around October when the machine started failing.

Last week alone, close to 10 patients who had a radiation treatment appointment were turned away,” the source who can only be identified as Colletta said.

She added: “Can you imagine a situation where a patient stays on a machine for 30 minutes instead of three minutes per session!

This is happening due to the malfunctioning of the machines at KNH due to the breakage that forces health givers to extend the number of minutes taken on a machine.”

The 25 sessions are meant to be administered for five days daily from Monday to Friday, meaning that a patient has to receive five sessions daily.

A health caregiver described the  situation as dire, since the cost of a single session for a cervical cancer patient is estimated at Sh40, 000 at high-end facilities such as Nairobi Hospital compared to between Sh18, 000 and Sh28, 000 at KNH, which is also partly settled by the National Hospital Insurance Fund.

Risk factors

A cancer caregiver alerted this publication about the situation.

“Hello...hope you are well. I am being informed that the radiotherapy machine at KNH has broken down.

The same situation also applies to brachytherapy machine that has also  failed forcing patients to seek for services at the Nairobi Hospital where the fees is too high...I  just decided to alert you over this,” the anonymous message read.

 A study that was published in the International Journal of RadiationOncology on January 30, 2016 shows that such patients face an increased risk of the disease recurring, even if they eventually completed their course of radiation treatment.

Further,the study showed that the magnitude of the effect was higher than the researchers anticipated, which suggests that non-compliance with radiation therapy may be an indicator for other risk factors that could negatively affect outcomes.

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