Calls to declare cancer a national disaster rise

by Amref Health Africa

Cancer has claimed the lives of several prominent Kenyans in recent times, in addition to the hundreds of others less known who have lost the battle to the disease.

As many as 133 people are diagnosed with the disease every day as the incidence of the disease continues to grow in the country.


About 90 Kenyans die from cancer daily, with many having been diagnosed too late for treatment.

While cancer treatment has improved and survival rates have gone up, so has the number of people afflicted by the disease.

So emotive have the deaths been that calls to the government to declare the disease a national disaster are mounting.

“Cancer is like terrorism. It is noisy, emotive, and steals headlines. As we mourn Okoth, Laboso and Bob, let’s also mourn the 1,000 that die every day from preventable causes and build a primary healthcare system that prevents cancer, and other deaths, not knee-jerk … to cancer centres,” Tweeted Dr Githinji Gitahi, Amref Africa CEO.

The Secretary-General of the doctors’ trade union, Dr Ouma Oluga, said: “I’m very optimistic that Kenya’s healthcare system will (one day) change for the better because we have all been awakened to the reality that we must transform it to respond to the dire health needs.”

Cancer is now the third leading cause of death, and the second among non-communicable diseases (NCDs), accounting for seven per cent of the overall mortality.

Speaking to the Nation yesterday, oncologist Andrew Odhiambo said we cannot use the same approach and expect different results. “Yes. I want it declared a national disaster. As long as there is response from all stakeholder and the declaration is supported by the government,” he said.


But his statement also came with a rider that the declaration should not only be embedded in law, but also be made in such a way that most of the country’s leading diseases are covered.

“Otherwise, you will find that once cancer is dealt with, another disease will crop up. The health system is ailing and failing and needs fixing,” he said.

Mr David Makumi, a member of the National Cancer Institute board, said instead of focusing on one illness, the government should take a holistic approach.

“Cancer, alongside other non-communicable diseases,   should be considered national disasters. If we do not look at this problem in its entirety, we will not win this fight,” said Makumi, who also the chairs the Kenya Network of Cancer Organisations.

On Tuesday lawmakers added their voices to the calls to declare the disease a national disaster.

But what is a national disaster?

The 2009 National Policy for Disaster Management in Kenya, defines a disaster as a serious disruption in the functioning of a community or society, causing widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses which exceed the affected community’s ability to cope using its own resources.

Article first published on

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