Kenya: Cancer Has Stolen Too Much To Be Ignored

It creeps stealthily and menacingly; it devours and ravages and then without any shred of tenderness, boldly announces itself to the patient, most of the times a little too late. In the hullabaloo about terror, HIV/AIDS, the SARS and the Ebolas of our times, the world has ignored this urgent agent of despondency and death.

Today in Kenya, cancer is ranked the third highest cause of death after infectious and cardiovascular diseases. She will claim her throne among killers by taking to the grave seventy four Kenyans today, and then the same number tomorrow, the following day and so forth till it is satisfied with her yearly tally of twenty seven thousand. That is like a Westgate attack ever day just without cameras and the CNNs to report.

Long thought to be a disease of the rich people, cancers no longer discriminate based on economic power. Just as a private developer is at risk of being among thirty nine thousand Kenyans getting diagnosed with cancer yearly, so is a man in a grass thatched house waiting for relief food in Kakuma.

I have seen normal Joes from my village succumb to breast and prostate cancer, just as I have seen my mother struggle with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I have seen strength in her eyes even though once a strong farmer, she could not properly walk alone. I saw her uprooted from her home in Oyugis in Homa Bay County and forced to seek residence in Nairobi to be close to Kenyatta National Hospital, the only hospital that offered hope in those trying moments. She would later join a queue over one hundred and fifty others also seeking to leave their pains at the two machines which should be serving just fifty in a day. Even in her sickness, she would be glad that at least she got a chance, as others will have to wait till 2016 in order to get radiotherapy sessions. The disease will not be waiting with them.

She would feel searing pain and lose weight but she would survive and burgeon to good health. Others would not be lucky though. They will lose weight, lose their hairs, perhaps a breast or a leg and succumb after accumulating millions in debt.

This is why am taking the battle against cancer personally, just as you should.

It’s a high time as a nation we talk a bold stance to cancer and all related infections. It’s time we tell her enough is enough. In as much as the public must do their part by checking their lifestyles notably exercising, limiting alcohol and tobacco intake, avoiding unsafe sexual practices (the Human Papilloma Virus is sexually transmitted), the government must take the forefront in this war. Not just in prevention but in diagnostic, curative and if need be in palliative aspects.

A caring and responsive government will not allow old men and women to travel over ten hours by bus to come to Nairobi only to find a broken machine, an impossible queue and an astronomical treatment fees. A government with the people at heart will not commit a million US Dollars for an African Court of Justice yet her citizen’s killer continue to ravage with impunity.

The county governments also have an opportunity of repaying the faith of Kenyans who overwhelmingly voted for devolution. They have a unique opportunity to strengthen the ailing healthcare system in their counties. Because let’s face it, nobody will work when bedridden and in the long run their economies will be the ones to suffer.

We risk behaving like the proverbial Kimani who continued fetching water with a leaking bucket if we continue to deploy thousands of troupes to guide our borders yet leave our brothers and sisters vulnerable at the hands of the this cruel monster.

And what better day to commit to the war than on the World Cancer Day, the day set aside globally to remember cancer survivors, fighters and those who have lost their lives to the disease?

ROBERT ASEDA is the Partnerships and Policy Officer at the Network for Adolescents and Youth of Africa-Kenya Chapter, a youth led advocacy network that does sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy. He has a BSc. Population Health from Kenyatta University. He has undergone training on budget advocacy, policy advocacy and media advocacy by Planned Parenthood Global and Choice for Youth and Sexuality of the Netherlands. He has been involved in the ICPD process and is currently the chairman of the National Youth Consortium on the POST2015 Development Agenda comprising of young people from organizations working in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights in Kenya. He is also a radio personality, a creative blogger, poet and a regular contributor to local dailies in Kenya. Connect with him on twitter: @Varaq

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