Kenya: MPs Voice Concerns Over Cancer Burden

24 February 2021

The two Houses of Parliament have spoken passionately about the burden of cancer on the national economy as they mourned Juja MP Francis Waititu, who died on Monday after a long battle with the disease.

The lawmakers raised their concern about the high cost of cancer treatment, warning that despite the disease being one of the top three killers in the country, it remains largely "forgotten."

They cited less attention from the State and challenged the government to equip healthcare facilities to fight the disease.

While the senators called on the government to capitalise on Mr Waititu's death and facilitate modern cancer facilities, the National Assembly called for a national prayer day for the 12th Parliament, saying the House has seen its dark days following the death of 10 lawmakers.

"No one is paying attention to the scourge even as it becomes a major killer in Kenya," Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula told the Senate as he eulogised Mr Waititu, 62, whose entire family has been brought down by the disease.

"As we lose colleagues, as in this case, there must be a reawakening on the state of healthcare facilities in Kenya. Something must be done because the only thing that defines our health sector are buildings."

Known among his colleagues as Wakapee - he would foot the bills of all the patrons he found in a bar - he died at MP Shah Hospital, Nairobi, where he was admitted on February 12 as he battled cancer of the brain.

His eldest son, Michael, confirmed that his father passed away on Monday evening after he was rushed to the hospital on February 12 after his situation deteriorated. "We have lost a great family member, a friend, a father who put both his family and that of people he represented in Parliament first," Michael said of his father the late Waititu has been in and out of country, mainly India, since he was diagnosed with cancer in 2017.

A year before his diagnosis, the MP had lost his sister to the cancer of the liver and later, doctors would diagonise his mother with the cancer of the brain.

In 2018, Mr Waititu stayed in India for seven weeks and on his return, he revealed the disease had taken a health and financial toll on him.

In total, he spent Sh8 million during his stay in the hospital, out of which Sh1.8 million catered for accommodation. It was during this time in India that he came across the desperate Kenyans who regularly fly out of the country for cancer treatment.

Most of the Kenyans who accompanied their families during such treatment visits are forced to sleep on the streets due to financial strain. At the time, he publicly said VIPs were suffering in silence, claiming about 60 MPs had cancer.

Cancer centre

It was on the basis of this experience that he had planned to set up a Cancer Centre, a vision that will now remain a dream.

While he hailed the late MP for having the courage to draw national attention to the scourge, Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina decried the huge cost the country is spending to send cancer patients for treatment abroad and called for national reflection on the issue.

"We send billions of shillings every year, which is a large sum of money," he said, and challenged the House to organise itself to ensure there are modern facilities to treat and train cancer specialists.

"Our healthcare system should be our priority because the state of health care of the citizenry is the basis of advancement," he said.

The 10 lawmakers who have died since 2017 include Grace Kipchoim (Baringo South), Francis Nyenze (Kitui West), Suleiman Dori (Msambweni), James Lusweti (Kabuchai), Justus Murunga (Matungu) Oroo Oyioka (Bonchari) and Francis Waititu (Juja).

The senate has lost Mr Ben Oluoch (Migori), Yusuf Haji (Garissa) and Boniface Kabaka (Machakos). Besides Mr Waititu, Mr Oluoch, Mr Dori, Mr Nyenze, Ms Kipchoim died as a result of the scourge.

"The way cancer is ravaging this country, there is need to think about strategy to deal with it," Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo said.

Kieni MP Kanini Kega said there is no family in Parliament that has not been affected the scourge.

Gilgil MP Martha Wangari said there is no family in Kenya that can say they have not been affected by cancer, challenging the counties to ensure that they have enough facilities to deal with the menace.

Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka described the late Waititu as an industrious MP and led the House in observing a minute silence in his honour.

Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi eulogised Mr Waititu as a hardworking lawmaker who had interest in agriculture and real estate sector.

"Despite battling cancer, which saw him travel outside the country for treatment, he managed to retain his seat in 2017.He was an illustrious member who served in the committee of agriculture," Mr Muturi said.

Igembe Central MP Cyprian Iringo said the lawmaker was confident he was going to win the war against the disease after diagnosis. "His cancer was discovered at an early stage and he told me while going to India for treatment that he was confident the disease was manageable. Unfortunately we have lost him," Mr Iringo said.

Reporting by Ibrahim Oruko, Samuel Owino and Simon Ciuri

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