New ray of hope for cancer warriors
After exhausting their life savings on healthcare, Elias Oduk and his wife Anne Anyango walked out of Kenyatta National Hospital with only an NHIF card, desperately searching for a centre that could offer affordable computerised tomography (CT) scan services since the waiting list at KNH was too long.
But none of the high-end health facilities dotting Hospital Road in Nairobi was willing to offer the service. They all demanded a “top-up” since the NHIF cover alone was not enough, recalls a frail Oduk.
“The one with the least charges wanted Sh9,000 but we only had bus-fare for our transport back home,” he says.
Almost giving up, they stumbled upon the Nairobi Hospice, and opted to give it a try. Half their problems were then solved.
Painkillers, dressing of the wound, and medicine were proffered.
Almost immediately, the condition of the 59-year-old improved and, on the night of October 30, 2022, he slept soundly after a long period of pain perseverance.
Oduk is ailing from prostate cancer. But he has regained a little weight now and is back to his workplace as a carpenter — a business he founded in 1984.
He is yet to undergo a CT scan or an MRI because of a shortfall in finances.
He requires Sh30,000 for an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which is a tall order for him, considering that raising cash for basic meals is a struggle. To his relief, the hospice workers visit him regularly.
On the other hand, for 47-year-old Lucy Atieno, it is a miracle that she is adjusting to life after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer three years ago.
Atieno, a casual labourer at both middle and high-end residential areas near Kibera, recalls one ordinary evening as she wound up her duties. She was in the bathroom when all hell broke loose. She started experiencing heavy bleeding.
“I made a decision immediately to go to hospital.
It was a huge task for me since I didn’t have money to board a bus. This means that I had to walk,” she said, reflecting on the arduous 5km trek ahead to Kenyatta National Hospital.
“As I figured out how to get to hospital, a pedestrian accused me of having aborted a baby. This forced me to walk for more than five kilometers, rather than attempt to use public transport”, she told People Daily.
Once in hospital, she underwent thorough analysis. The doctors hinted that the bleeding might be due to use of contraceptives. But that was not the case.
Further diagnosis then revealed the dreaded name: cancer.
She was immediately placed under treatment. So far, Anyango has undergone chemotherapy, courtesy of MP Shah Hospital, and is a beneficiary of Nairobi Hospice’s outreach programme.
A widow, she has three daughters.
Felgonah Pamba is also a widow who is supporting her granddaughters. She has gone through double tragedy — she suffers from both cervical and colon cancer.
But despite her children falling into drug abuse and alcoholism, she is still able to fend for the grandchildren through petty trades like hawking mandazi and fruits in the narrow lanes of Kibera.
Marita Andeyo is also a cancer warrior. She is battling cervical cancer despite losing family support from her husband and family members.
In the early stages, she was misdiagnosed, with medics mistaking the heavy bleeding for complications caused by family planning drugs. For Joyce Khamonya, 68, it has been a struggle for more than a decade. Fighting throat cancer, the single parent who is supporting two grandchildren has been forced to depend on well-wishers and charity groups like the hospice, who support her medically and socially through food relief.
Under the leadership of Jared Mochora, these five patients and another 55 have joined efforts to support and encourage one another under the umbrella Kibera Cancer Fighters.
“At the start of year 2021, we were 68; we lost eight members of our team. Ten of our members are bedridden, four are recovering from medical operations while the rest are yet to access treatment”, notes a charming Mochora whose wife is a cancer survivor.
The organisation has been in operation since 2017.
On its part, the hospice, through Chief Executive Officer Asaph Kinyanjui, notes that 90 per cent of their patients “depend on casual work, hence face challenges contributing to the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) on a monthly basis”.
He also argues that NHIF only covers 50 per cent of the treatment and care costs, making it difficult for patients to complete treatment and leading to recurrence of the disease in some cases.
The Ministry of Health, through the National Cancer Control Programme and the National Cancer Institute, is promoting access to essential cancer and palliative care medicines like morphine for control of severe pain.
Kinyanjui adds that hospitals are faced with many challenges when it comes to purchase of diagnostic machines since there are no clear guidelines from the relevant ministries on the type of equipment they can import. Tax is also a heavy burden on these institutions.
Health experts say the government needs to invest more in awareness campaigns, especially on the Human Papilloma-Virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that gradually causes various types of cancer.