Late diagnosis, withcraft claims derail Coast region fight against cancer

Cancer cell

Cancer has been a big concern in the country. According to 2020 data by the National Cancer Institute of Kenya, breast cancer was in the lead with 6, 799 cases (16.1 percent).

Photo credit: Courtesy

Lack of early diagnosis and the association of cancer with witchcraft have been cited as some of the key stumbling blocks in the fight against the disease in the Coast region.

This is why Patience Chivila and David Lifondo, cancer survivors from Kilifi County, advocate for people from the region to dissociate cancer with witchcraft, the goal being to save hundreds of locals living in denial after being diagnosed with the disease.

Ms Chivila said when she learnt she had breast cancer in early 2020, she detached herself from residents who were pushing her to go to a sorcerer for a remedy.

“Today I am declaring myself cancer-free after more than three years of treatment but this only happened after I dropped my traditional belief that there is no cancer as others in my village also think,” she said.

Speaking in Takaungu, Kilifi, during a cancer awareness campaign by the Mombasa Cancer Centre, Ms Chivila urged Coast residents to take advantage of the ongoing cancer screening organised by well-wishers.

“I was treated because the cancer was detected at an early stage. A number of people suffer since they live in denial after learning they have contracted cancer. I would like to tell them cancer is not a death sentence,” she said.

Mr Lifondo, a prostate cancer survivor from Kilifi, said support from his family made him conquer the disease.

“My family supported me and we kept the disease within our small circle to keep other people from influencing us to seek traditional medicine. I went on with my duties as I sought medication in different hospitals though it was very expensive. That is what healed me,” he said.

Dr Riaz Kasmani, the first oncologist in the Coast region and the head of the cancer department at the Mombasa Cancer Centre, oversaw the screening of patients during the awareness campaign.

Dr Kasmani urged locals to visit clinic drives organised by well-wishers as part of efforts to fight the disease.

“In the Coast region, breast, cervical and prostate cancer remain a major problem but the fight has been derailed by traditional beliefs and lack of early diagnosis,” he said.

The oncologist said a recent study indicated that people aged 40 and above are more vulnerable to diseases but that early screening and detection makes a big difference.

“As experts we recommend that young girls go for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to prevent cervical cancer as the virus is mostly passed through sex,” Dr Kasmani said.

“The latest study shows that in Kenya, nine women die every day from cervical cancer, with women in their twenties especially vulnerable, thus the need to administer the HPV vaccine to the group.”

Kenya became the 16th African country to introduce the HPV vaccine into its routine national immunisation schedule.

The initiative supported by Gavi is aimed at ensuring the vaccine is available countrywide through public, private, faith-based and non-governmental facilities.

During the cancer screening over the weekend, organised by Mombasa businessman Salim Juma, Mombasa Cement and the Mombasa Cancer Centre, more than 1,000 patients were screened, with sponsors promising to support those diagnosed with the disease.

“We have done about four cancer awareness visits in different areas in the Coast region and intend to hold more camps to educate locals about the killer disease,” said Mr Juma.

“We are asking those suffering from the disease to contact us so we can arrange how to support their medication, but we are also asking Kenyans to go for early screening.”

Cancer has been a big concern in the country. According to 2020 data by the National Cancer Institute of Kenya, breast cancer was in the lead with 6, 799 cases (16.1 percent).

It was followed by cervical cancer with 5, 236 (12.4 percent), prostate 3, 412 with (8.1 percent), oesophagus with 2, 974 (7.1 percent), and colorectum with 2, 724 (6.5 percent).

As per the institute, at least eight in 10 women in Kenya have heard of cervical cancer, but only two among the eight go for early screening.


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