The establishment of Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital will reduce the challenge of a growing threat of cancer not only in Kenya, but also in other parts of Africa (HELLORF)
Although John Bidanya, 42, is a cancer patient, he is a happy man. His joy stems from the fact that he has the opportunity to be treated at the new cancer center that recently opened on the outskirts of Nairobi, and he is almost through with his treatment.
Known as Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital (KUTRRH), the hospital is located in suburban Nairobi and has 650 beds, with additional facilities for cancer patients.
"I got suspicious when I started to experience a frequent urge to urinate. I also had problems with my bladder. I subsequently decided to visit the KUTRRH," said Bidanya.
After having a prostate cancer screening, he found the results were positive stage one prostate cancer.
"I have almost completed my treatment as my problem is currently very minor and the costs are not prohibitive. The total costs that I will have incurred by the end of my treatment in about two months' time will be less than $1,000," said Bidanya.
He said that the treatments have mostly included hormone therapy, which shrink the growth of tumors in the early stages and have a long lasting effect.
State of the art facility
According to Professor Olive Mugenda, a longtime distinguished researcher and chairperson of the hospital board, the Chinese built facility is for both local and foreign cancer patients. The cancer department is a research center, diagnosis center and an awareness center for the public.
Mugenda said the hospital has Chinese donated medical equipment to diagnose and treat 83 of the 100 types of documented cancers worldwide. He eventually hopes that people heading to India and the United States each year just to be diagnosed will use the facility.
"In recent months, we have diagnosed the most common types of cancers in the region and these include lymphoma, leukemia, melanoma, sarcoma, prostate, breast and ovarian cancers. I am proud to tell you that all the treatments have been successful," said Mugenda, adding that they plan to be able to treat all cancers in the future.
The launch of the hospital a few months ago came at a time when the government was set to announce a date to launch its free program of Universal Health Coverage.
"When that happens, cancer treatment will be almost free or at a subsidized cost since the government will guarantee almost 100 percent of the total medical costs," said Mugenda.
The facility will reduce the challenge of a growing threat of cancer not only in Kenya, but also in other parts of Africa. Patients will be referred from other facilities to KUTRRH for diagnosis and treatment. According to Mugenda, African countries with the most cancer cases, apart from Kenya, include South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mauritius, Uganda, Cape Verde, Burundi and Rwanda.
KUTRRH is already working closely with facilities in those countries for rapid referrals with some already taken shape.
According to The Cancer Atlas, the most common types of cancers in Sub-Saharan Africa currently include breast cancer, cervix, prostate, liver, lung, esophagus and stomach cancers.
At least 50 percent of the cancer's diagnosed in this region are largely preventable. "The problem is that most people do not know that they have cancer and the conditions are diagnosed in stage four, making [successful treatment] very difficult," said Mugenda.
She hopes that with time, people will take advantage of this facility and actually save 45 percent, or much less, on the costs that they would alternatively spend in India or the United States. She also warns that the emerging types of cancers may be a cause of concern, such as colorectal cancer.
KUTRRH is currently collaborating with Chinese experts in cancer research. The motivation of building the center comes at a time when the government is planning to build at least 46 other centers countrywide before August 2022, said Mugenda.
Chinese Ambassador Wu Peng (third left) visits Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital on May 15, 2019 (KUTRRH.GO.KE)
According to Kenya's former Cabinet Secretary for Health Cecily Kariuki, the total KUTRRH construction costs, including equipment, was estimated to be $10 million up to the date of completion and launch in October last year.
"Since I launched the facility last year, I can tell you that it is the only one of its kind in this region and I believe that we can tackle cancer. We have worked closely with the Chinese to make this a reality, " said Kariuki.
She confirmed that the government built the facility with a concession loan from the Export-Import Bank of China.
"The loan from China is concessional and that means no costs will be burdened to the tax payer. The government will be tasked with paying back the loan. We expect costs of cancer treatment to be subsidized or almost free to the citizen once the government rolls out the Universal Health Coverage," said Kariuki.
Universal Health Coverage is a health initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), an agreement with member countries to give its citizens adequate healthcare without much financial burden. The WHO asked countries to commit to this initiative before 2030. Kenya is set to launch this program sometime this year.
Experts in the health sector say that the KUTRRH is well on course to compete with other health centers, not just in Africa, but globally, in diagnosing and treating cancer.
According to the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council, a government agency that issues medical licenses to practitioners, the new cancer hospital will surpass the other eight in the country in terms of service and costs.
Daniel Yumbya, CEO of Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council, has praised the launch of the facility and the importance of working with partners, such as the Chinese, in saving lives.
"Cancer is a burden and a lot needs to be done. Working with Chinese on research in the facility is a novel idea," said Yumbya.
He says that the country is working on a framework of registering a large number of oncologists, considering that currently there are only 35 that are catering for about 47,000 cases of cancer in Kenya. The government at a future date will work with China to formulate a plan to hire a large number of Chinese oncologists to assist with the problem, he confirmed.
Currently a number of Chinese oncologists are already working as researchers in at KUTRRH.
(Reporting from Kenya)
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