Children to access unlimited chemotherapy sessions

A proposal has been submitted to the National Health Insurance Fund to allow unlimited chemotherapy sessions for children being treated for cancer.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Children with childhood cancers will soon have access to unlimited chemotherapy sessions if new proposals by the Ministry of Health are adopted.

The proposals, already submitted to the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) for implementation seek to have children with cancer access treatment beyond the current limit of  six sessions by the fund.

The ministry developed the Childhood Cancer Advisory in consultation with health experts after it emerged that treating childhood cancers takes time and might need more support.

Head of the National Cancer Control Programme at the ministry, Dr Mary Nyangasi, yesterday said the document was developed after it was found that the current oncology package provided for by NHIF was not adequately supporting children with cancer.

“As we speak, children with cancer can get treatment, its only that the way it is structured is not covering them fully. We proposed that children with cancer be treated fully because the return on investment is high,” she said.

She added: “We also recommended that instead of the six sessions for chemotherapy, the one for children be considered beyond six because children with cancer do not get treated adequately with six sessions; sometimes their treatment can go on for up to two years.”


According to the American Cancer Society, while known lifestyle-related factors can increase the risk of developing cancer in adults, the same is not true for children. The peak age of childhood cancer is between three and seven years, which is not enough time for environmental factors to cause cancer. Instead, many believe that cell division and multiplication defects are the cause.

Cancer is a leading cause of death for children and adolescents, with the most common types in those aged 0 to 14 years being leukaemia, brain and other central nervous system tumours, and lymphomas.

The likelihood of surviving a diagnosis of childhood cancer depends on the country in which the child lives. In high-income countries, more than 80 per cent of children with cancer are cured, but in low- and middle-income countries, including Kenya, less than 30 per cent are cured.

Because it is generally not possible to prevent cancer in children, the most effective strategy to reduce the burden of cancer in children and improve outcomes is to focus on prompt and correct diagnosis, followed by effective, evidence-based therapy with tailored supportive care.

“If you get it at an early stage and they get the treatments that are available, childhood cancer is curable. We get our patients many times when they are in late stage three and four and the cancer has really spread in many organs in the body and we end up losing them,” said Irene Nzamu, a paediatric hemato-oncologist at Kenyatta National Hospital.


She further advised parents and health care workers to watch out for symptoms that do not go away quickly. Some of these are an unusual lump or swelling, unexplained paleness, energy loss, easy bruising or bleeding, sudden unexplained weight loss, frequent headaches, vomiting and sudden eye or vision changes.

“Cancers in children can be hard to recognise right away because early symptoms are often like those caused by much more common illnesses or injuries. Children often get sick or have bumps or bruises that might mask the early signs of cancer,” she said.

Childhood cancer rates have risen slightly over the past few decades. Each year, an estimated 400,000 children and adolescents from 0-19 years old develop cancer.