County launches telemedicine initiative for cancer treatment

County Executive for Health John Mwakima gets Covid-19 vaccine from a nurse Eva Mwandembo at Moi County Referral Hospital in Voi, Taita Taveta county on March 8.

Photo credit: Lucy Mkanyika I Nation Media Group.

A cancer clinic in Taita Taveta County has launched the first phase of a telemedicine initiative seeking to improve access to treatment for residents.

The development comes amid calls in Kenya to boost screening for the disease and improve treatment and prevention methods.

Taita Taveta residents used to travel to other parts of the country, especially Eldoret, Nairobi and Mombasa, for cancer treatment.

But cancer scans are now interpreted locally through a telemedicine platform, an initiative of the clinic and the International Cancer Institute (ICI).

ICI is one of the key partners who established the clinic in October last year. Others are the County First Ladies Association, Roche, Empower Project, Women for Cancer, and the African Cancer Foundation.

Dr Rebeccah Mwakichako, a general practitioner who heads the clinic, said the platform has enabled them to get quick diagnoses, clear medical results and reduce the time for treatment.

The clinic sends high-resolution images to experts in and outside the country who share their expertise on how to treat patients.

Instead of referring patients to other facilities, she said, the platform saves lives by aiding prompt assessment, clinical decision-making and action.

“This has significantly reduced the cost of healthcare for patients and their relatives by avoiding unnecessary travel costs to referral hospitals,” she said.

Some 70 patients are receiving treatment at the clinic, with 20 of them on chemotherapy. Several patients have been referred to Nairobi for radiotherapy because such services are not available in the region.

But she said the platform has made it easier to transition patients to the next stage of treatment.

Because there is no histopathology lab at the clinic, patients’ biopsy samples are sent to Eldoret for processing to establish their stage of cancer.

Dr Mwakichako said many local cancer sufferers die because they cannot afford the recommended treatment due to financial difficulties.

The cancer clinic has relieved patients of the agony of seeking treatment in far-flung hospitals outside the county.

Lack of accessible and affordable treatment in the county had worsened the condition of many patients.

“It is fulfilling to see our patients being brought in by their relatives for chemotherapy. If it were in Nairobi the patients would sometimes go alone to cut costs, but here it is near their homes so the cost has been minimised,” she said.

The clinic has also enhanced its services by incorporating haemophilia and sickle cell treatment.

County Health executive John Mwakima said the department will ensure that adequate resources are provided to extend tele-health treatment for other diseases.

Telemedicine, he said, has the potential to transform health services across the county.

“We are planning to have the telemedicine services progressively across all the other medical service specialities. We will invest a lot in telemedicine equipment going forward,” he said.

The county government is also working to set up radiology services to reduce the number of people travelling to Nairobi for the treatment.

“We are pushing to have radiology services offered in the county to benefit residents across the coastal region," he said.