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Haematologists, oncologists advocate for dedicated cancer research infrastructure and funding

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The government should dedicate at least Kshs 12 billion (0.1% of Kenya’s GDP) annually to finance targeted research on cancer to inform the local interventions in the fight against the disease.

Speaking during the closing ceremony of the three-day, 7th Kenya International Cancer Conference at a Mombasa Hotel, Dr Miriam Mutebi who is the Chairperson of the Kenya Society of Haematology and Oncology (KESHO) said that research is a key pillar of cancer control and important in understanding the cancer burden and how patients respond to different treatments and interventions.

She mentioned that a lot of the cancer research being conducted in Kenya was not addressing many key issues being faced in the country. “This is because cancer research is largely funded through external collaborators who frequently dictate the terms and areas of the research, which may not always align with the local priorities,” Dr Mutebi explained.

She reminded delegates at the conference that African Union member states in 2012 adopted a proposal to dedicate at least 1% of their respective GDPs for health research, adding that Kenya should move a step further by ring-fencing at least 10% of that amount for cancer research.

“As a country, we haven’t really supported cancer research to fully understood the cancer patterns in Kenya and the responses to treatments by our patients over the years,” Dr Mutebi said.

She observed most of the research on cancer being done in Kenya was being supported and driven by global partners in areas of their choice, which are not always informed by trends in Kenya and the cancer disease burden. She cited rising cases of cervical, esophageal and colorectal cancer without corresponding increases in research output and funding for the three.

“We are not able to determine our own research agenda, because the focus of most of the research being conducted here is frequently determined by those funding it,” Dr Mutebi said.

The KESHO chairperson challenged policymakers, oncology experts, key opinion leaders and cancer advocates and other stakeholders at the conference, to lobby for dedicated cancer research funding especially through annual budgetary allocation.

“There was also a need to support academic institutions, research institutions and other stakeholders to work collaboratively to develop patient-centric research that addresses the needs of our communities and involves them as key participants in this research. We also need research that addresses palliative and supportive care and patient reported outcomes, that addresses socio-cultural barriers to care like stigma and health economics, [research] that determines cost effectiveness and quality of care [are much needed] in our context.

“It is very difficult to drive one’s agenda when one is relying on external funding. As we leave, our key focus should be on how to develop a dedicated research support ecosystem that develops the skills set and financing for cancer research,” she said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Kisumu Governor Prof. Anyang Nyong’o who said funding health services was a priority in his devolved unit and that he was keen on upgrading and expanding the cancer infrastructure in the lakeside county.

Prof. Nyong’o pledged to support initiatives aimed at ring-fencing a dedicated fund for research on cancer, at the Council of Governors level as well as other platforms he serves.

He challenged the medical care givers, oncology experts and supportive staff to push the agenda for increased finances to primary healthcare and preventive initiatives both at the county and national governments level.

“The cancer figures at the county level are so huge when compared to the meager resources allocated for attending to them. In fact, infrastructure and human resources are the key challenges faced by counties in their fight against cancer,” the Kisumu County Governor said. “Given the projection of cancer numbers, we should all support counties in putting in place infrastructure for cancer screening and other early detection measures.”

Prof. Nyong’o challenged Kisumu County residents and Kenyans at large to embrace cancer screening to help in the war against cancer.

He challenged stakeholders to change their approach to cancer screening to places where the targeted are. “If you are targeting men, for instance, why can’t you do such things [cancer screening] in bars and football pitches?,” he posed.

The government has been expanding cancer infrastructure at the National Referral Hospitals and decentralizing radiotherapy services to regional cancer centres to expand availability and access to quality, affordable diagnostic, treatment and palliative cancer care services.

Currently, chemotherapy and surgical services are offered at 11 regional cancer centres in Kisumu, Mombasa, Nakuru, Meru, Nyeri, Embu, Garissa, Bomet, Machakos, Kakamega and Makueni.

In Kenya, cancer currently accounts for 10% of all disease mortalities, with over 42,000 new cancer cases and 28,000 deaths reported annually.



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