Kenya: Drug Scarcity Adds to Cancer Patients' Pain

Residents of Eldoret mark World Cancer Day (file photo).
6 November 2018

Cancer patients who depend on Mercaptopurine will have to either do without it, or resort to other drugs.

The Nation has learnt that the drug is not available in the country, and that the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) has just completed tendering for supplies.

Kemsa chief executive Jonah Mwangi said the authority has not been stocking cancer drugs because they never used to get any orders and that they have just placed their first order.


"We have evaluated and picked the lowest bidders and from Thursday next week, we will be having anti-cancer drugs," he said, adding that they do not supply Kenyatta National Hospital with drugs.

Regarding Mercaptopurine, he said: "No bidder was found capable of supplying the drug at a competitive price. The authority will, therefore, procure directly from the manufacturers either in India or Europe," he said.


Mercaptopurine is a chemotherapy drug used to treat acute lymphocytic leukaemia, a type of cancer that begins in the white blood cells and affects both adults and children.

Another cancer drug not available at KNH is Carboplatin. For two months, parents have watched helplessly as their children's health deteriorated due to lack of the drug, or bought it expensively from private chemists


After the Sunday Nation revealed that there was a shortage of cancer drugs at KNH on November 4, the KNH management sent a press release to media houses saying Carboplatin would be delivered to the hospital by Monday.

But an investigation by the Nation revealed patients were still waiting for the drug, which costs between Sh8,500 and Sh10,000 a dose.


It is used to treat several cancers, including ovarian, breast, cervical, lung, head and neck, endometrial, oesophageal and bladder.

Meanwhile, KNH's acting chief executive Thomas Mutie clarified that other cancer drugs, including Vincristine, Doxorubicin, Allopurinol, Cisplatin and Cyclophosphamide, are available at the hospital.

"The hospital had earlier awarded a contract for the supply of the unavailable cancer drugs which were delivered but rejected because they did not meet the required specifications," he said.

But he did not explain why the drugs had not been made available to patients.

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