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Row Over KNH Machine Dashes Hopes For Poor Cancer Patients

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Thousands of patients who were in the middle of cancer treatment sessions at Kenyatta National Hospital will have to wait longer for treatment following a row between the facility and a company that was supposed to repair a machine used for radiotherapy. 

The two main radiotherapy machines have been disabled for the last six weeks, painting a grim picture of the situation. According to a source at the hospital who spoke to Saturday Nation, the management has ordered the machine’s parts.

“We are waiting for them to be delivered for it to be repaired. We are going to have things running in the coming weeks.”

Initially, the management had indicated they were waiting for the manufacturer from India to come and repair the machine, only for them to change the tune.

It has emerged that the two entities did not agree on who was to cover travel expenses for the firm’s engineers. It is not clear whether they had a contract on who should repair the machine.

Many cancer patients prefer KNH because of affordability. Those who travelled from far away with nowhere else to go sit on benches, waiting for the equipment to be repaired. They are in pain. Some are alone and lonely.

Today, if a patient is diagnosed with cancer at KNH, he/she will have to wait for six months to be placed on the treatment list. The hospital is not admitting new patients, owing to the failed system.

Fixing the machines

Patients have been booked until April next year, as per KNH data. And now the hospital is trying to fix them up for treatment using one of the remaining machines.

Three patients, who have since returned home waiting for the hospital to call them back, said they can only pray to God to prolong their lives.

“I started my treatment last year and when I came for my session on December 27, I was told the machine had problems and that I should be back to the hospital on January 3. When I went back, I was told to go back home and wait for a call from the hospital,” said Ms Millicent Awino.

A friend accommodated her, but after three days, she had not received a call, so she returned home in Webuye. 

Ms Awino has breast cancer. She is worried the cancer cells might spread to other parts of the body. 

“Now that I am not getting treatment, I am in pain with no one to dress my wounds and this is having an impact on my health,” she says, hoping to receive a call from the hospital soon.

“Do you know how traumatising it is to wake up every morning with a wound with no treatment? Definitely, the cells are active and multiplying. If the government is listening and cares for us, then let them do something or I will be buried before my 42nd birthday, which is in March.”

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Radiotherapy machine

Mildred Akinyi from Alego Usonga is not convinced that she is going to get her sessions any time soon going by what she heard KNH nurses say. 

“I went to the hospital three times and was told the earliest I could get my sessions was in March since I was booked for December, which has since passed. If I am lucky to be there, it is okay, if I die before, it is also fine. I am tired of the pain and expenses.”

She hopes to raise money to help her have sessions in a private hospital before the machines are repaired. Her medical appeal is next week. 

“This hospital was a saviour to many, but it had started detecting a problem with the machine. For a session, a patient takes at most three minutes, but when it was just about to break down, we were taking 30 minutes. They should have called the engineer then. Are we not Kenyans? why are the poor always left on their own?”

The two are among thousands of cancer patients worried that the longer KNH takes to repair the equipment, the more cancer cells multiply in their bodies and the higher the risk of them losing the battle.

But it is not the first time a radiotherapy machine is failing at KNH. The three at the hospital serve thousands of patients at low cost. Two have been repeatedly out of service throughout 2015 and early 2016, with many patients left to die.

This is due to an increase in the number of patients, meaning the machines have to run round the clock against the impossible demand.

Delayed cancer treatment

Many patients have died in the queues in the past and others have slept in corridors waiting for treatment that often comes too late.

Cancer treatment in Kenya is offered at a subsided rate at the hospital, as an outpatient service — a single session at Sh500. A similar session at private hospitals costs between Sh5,000 and Sh10,000.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 29 per cent of patients in 2019 missed or delayed cancer treatment, and the main barriers were accommodation in Nairobi and transport to and from KNH.

More than 3,000 new patients begin treatment each year at the hospital.

A nurse said once a patient begins treatment, they must undergo 25 sessions continuously from Monday to Friday.

“The machines can never rest because the demand for the services is very high. It must be repaired first.”

Calls and messages to KNH chief executive officer Dr Evanson Kamuri went unanswered at the time of going to press.


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