Relief as cancer care starts at Kitui Referral Hospital

A medic works inside a cancer ward at the Kitui County Referral Hospital on November 30, 2023. The county has stepped up its fight against cancer.


What you need to know:

  • The National Cancer Institute gave the Kitui cancer unit a thumbs-up two weeks ago.
  • The governor said the cancer unit comes with eight specialised healthcare workers tasked with screening, diagnosing and managing cancer adequately. 

Tens of cancer patients in Kitui County accessed assorted cancer care services at the Kitui County Referral Hospital for the first time last week after the county government opened a Sh22 million cancer unit as it intensified efforts to combat the menace. 

It was an emotional moment for the cancer patients and survivors who saw an end to a raft of challenges which they endured in accessing cancer care services in other counties.

“The cancer unit is a welcome relief,” said Christine Malu Maluki, a 77-year- old widow who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.  The peasant farmer has since sold a parcel of land, two bulls and goats in pursuit of treatment in Nairobi and Machakos counties. 

“It costs me at least Sh10,000 every three weeks to seek chemotherapy services in Machakos County. This means selling at least two goats monthly. To get to the hospital on time, it means starting my journey at 2 am. Kitui cancer unit marks an end to the inconvenience and a reduction in the cost of seeking cancer care services,” she told Healthy Nation at Kitoo Village.

“The chemotherapy which took cancer patients all the way to Nairobi is now offered in Kitui County Referral Hospital. We have qualified oncologists who are ready to handle even advanced cancer cases,” Kitui Health Executive Ruth Koki said during a ceremony to open the facility to patients last week.

However, cancer survivors who spoke at the ceremony called for more efforts to address the stigma associated with the disease which had held cancer patients back from accessing treatment. 

Kitui Governor Julius Malombe said the cancer centre is part of a raft of measures his administration had put in place to stem the cancer menace which he revealed had been on the rise. 

“In Kitui, there has been an upward trend of new cancer cases from 2018 up to date with a total of 958 cases reported. Of these cases, cervix, breast and prostate cancers are the most prevalent,” he said in a speech delivered on his behalf by his deputy Augustine Wambua. “The Kitui cancer centre is a symbol of our dedication to the health and wellbeing of the people of Kitui County. It stands as a beacon of hope, offering state-of-the -art diagnostic and treatment services. Our residents will no longer travel long journeys to seek essential medical care. The cancer centre brings these vital services closer home.” 

The National Cancer Institute gave the Kitui cancer unit a thumbs-up two weeks ago. The governor said the cancer unit comes with eight specialised healthcare workers tasked with screening, diagnosing and managing cancer adequately. 

In addition to the equipment for diagnosing and treating cancer, the governor added, the Kitui cancer unit comes with a telemedicine facility which has linked all the sub-county hospitals in the county and through which patients consult specialists from different parts of the world. 

The project was delivered through a collaboration between the county government, Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB), a non-governmental organisation which runs programmes on infant and maternal health, and Bristol Mayers Squibb Foundation (BMSF), an organisation which supports healthcare programmes in remote regions in the world, delivered the project. 

The Kitui cancer unit is dubbed Phangisile Mtshali Cancer Centre, in honour of the late Phagisile Mtshali, a South African who was an icon in the fight against the cancer menace, BMSF officials said.

As he pledged the commitment of his administration to sustaining the cancer unit through adequate funding and staffing, Dr Malombe revealed that his administration had deployed the county healthcare system, which includes some 2, 470 community health promoters, for an all-out campaign to promote the uptake of cancer screening services with those diagnosed with cancer navigated through the cancer regime at the new cancer unit. 

The devolved unit has also teamed up with schools to roll out an aggressive human papillomavirus vaccination drive targeting girls aged 4-16 which, according to Dr Malombe, has seen some 141, 569 girls in Kitui County vaccinated against the virus which causes cancer of the cervix.

Mary Beth Powers, the president of CMMB, urged residents to take advantage of the cancer unit to get screened and treated for cancer. 

“The various testimonies of the cancer survivors are testimony that cancer is not a death sentence. Most cancers are curable. However, they can be cured when we act responsibly and get screened at the early stages. Make cancer screening a routine. Do not wait to fall sick to seek cancer screening services,” she said.