Cancer treatment should be available to all East Africans

Saturday January 31 2015

On the second day of this year, the Cabinet Secretary for Health James Macharia gave Kenyans a quiet new year’s gift by gazetting the board of trustees to run the National Cancer Institute of Kenya (NCI-K) as provided for in the Cancer Control and Prevention Act, 2012).

This makes Kenya one of the few countries in Africa to have cancer control legislation operationalised. We therefore have something to be proud of as we mark this year’s World Cancer Day on February 4.

The World Cancer Day 2015 is aptly themed “Not beyond us” — a maxim that holds true. For it is not beyond us to prevent those cancers that are preventable; to treat those that are treatable; to cure those that are curable; and to provide palliation to those patients who need palliative care.

The board of trustees of the National Cancer Institute of Kenya has its work cut out. Numerous cancer policy documents have been developed and we have a vibrant cancer civil society movement.

Counties have woken up to the reality of cancer, with many planning to establish cancer centres. All these worthy efforts need to be amalgamated under the NCI-K, whose role is defined in the Act as, among other things, to co-ordinate the services provided in Kenya for persons suffering from cancer.

The institute will also provide strategic direction for the implementation of evidence-based practices for prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and palliation.

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This will help to avoid duplication and ensure cancer resources are distributed across the country in a systematic and equitable manner.

Private sector players have invested millions of dollars in cutting-edge cancer infrastructure backed by international accreditation and highly trained experts.

While patients in public hospitals are waiting a year for radiotherapy treatment, private cancer centres have idle capacity.

Perhaps the first assignment of the NCI-K is to come up with a framework for public-private partnerships and financing models for cancer treatment to help every Kenyan, regardless of socio-economic background, to access world-class cancer care within our borders.

The marketing of cancer treatment abroad (read India) is hovering on unethical realms. East Africans who can afford cancer treatment in India are flying out in droves, often against expert advice. One way of addressing the capital flight occasioned by medical tourism is to invite some of the networks of cancer hospitals in India and elsewhere to come and invest in our countries.

Cancer is a complex and expensive disease whose tentacles touch every sector of the economy.

Effective cancer control thus requires active involvement of all arms of government — from the judiciary, which is expected to deal with cases involving institutions that fail to report cancer, to the legislature, which should enact more stringent anti-tobacco laws and the executive, which needs to provide all the support to the nascent board.

Expectations will be high that all cancer management issues especially the costs will change immediately with the implementation of the Act. These expectations have to be managed without dampening the optimism with which the Cabinet Secretary’s New Year and World Cancer Day gift was received.

The newly gazetted NCI-K board has a race against time to provide leadership to turn the tide against the pain ( physical and financial) and deaths associated with cancer, drawing on the immense goodwill and support of ordinary East Africans, corporates, religious organisations and the ruling class.

David Makumi
National Cancer Institute of Kenya

Ethiopian bloggers’ case is political

An Ethiopian court’s decision to recognise formal charges against the Zone Nine bloggers and journalists, who have been imprisoned for nine months and are now required to enter a plea on February 3, proves the political nature of this case.

The defendants are on trial for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression.

The government of Ethiopia should dismiss these spurious charges and release the bloggers and journalists immediately.

Furthermore, Ethiopia’s donor partners should press the government to stop pursuing politically motivated charges against pro-democracy activists as the country prepares for elections in May.

Jenai Cox,
Freedom House

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