Hundreds of supporters participated in a 5Km walk to raise awareness on childhood cancers on 15th February 2015, which was the International Childhood Cancer Day.
Starting at University of Nairobi (UoN) grounds, Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) the path led the participants to the National library and back to the same venue. Participants were drawn from different organizations, Hope for Cancer Kids being one of them and the general public as well. Also in attendance was a police band which led participants throughout the walk.
Hope for Cancer Kids being one of the supporters showed up in pomp and color to help in the creation of awareness on childhood cancers with the message ‘Act now’ and “Better access to care for children and adolescents with cancer everywhere”
According to Aga Khan pediatric Oncologist Professor William Macharia, many children die from cancers undiagnosed because of parents and medical persons missing out the signs or mistaking them for other conditions. “Late detection or lack of detection is due to confusion with other common diseases like joint disease, malaria and common infections. In children, many cancers present like other common childhood conditions” said Prof. Macharia, adding that poverty also limits access to facilities that have resources to correctly diagnose cancers.
The main organizer of the event was KMA (Kenya Medical Association) in conjunction with the Bila Cancer Society (Without Cancer Society). Sponsors included Kenya Accountants and Secretaries National Examinations Board(KASNEB), Radio Africa Group, Makini Schools, and Ministry of Health among others.
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$ 2 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 3,000 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.