Of all the phobias that exist, the fear of getting cancer is probably one of the most crippling.
The uncertainties that come with the diagnosis of the deadly disease, such as the fear of death, disability and disruption of relationships, have largely contributed to the low number of people who volunteer for screening tests.
Financial stress has sent many patients to an early grave due to the high cost of cancer treatment and lack of health care infrastructure in the country, especially the rural counties.
But despite the pain and suffering, Kenyans are slowly fighting back to stay alive. At the Nakuru Level Five Hospital, for instance, an oncology unit that was established in May 2018 has served many and saved thousands of lives.
Headed by an oncologist, the facility has 10 chemotherapy chairs, a medical officer, a pharmacist, four nurses and a physiotherapist. It serves at least 30 patients daily and has helped in early diagnosis and management of the disease.
It has served more than 20,000 cancer patients in the past three years, a majority of whom seek surgical procedures and chemotherapy sessions.
The county health executive, Dr Gichuki Kariuki, says the unit has been a relief to patients in at least five counties, who no longer have to either Nairobi or Eldoret for treatment.
"Before the unit was built, most cancer patients sought treatment at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret and in private facilities, which were costly. Now they are being treated here. The unit has served people from various parts of the South Rift," says Dr Kariuki.
Services for all
Other than Nakuru, patients from Kericho, Samburu, Narok, Bomet and Baringo are treated here.
Ms Mary Maina from Subukia sub-county is a mother of four who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.
"I am very happy because I got all the services, such as chemotherapy sessions, at the oncology unit. I had been referred to KNH for treatment, which would have been costly. The facility came at the right time to save the poor," says Ms Maina.
Mr John Moenga, a Molo resident who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, attends chemotherapy treatments at the facility. Before 2018, he had to travel to Nairobi, where he would wait for hours for treatment.
"I used to go to Kenyatta and it had drained my resources. I had almost given up, but the facility rescued us. I no longer worry of travel costs. I no longer wait for long before treatment," he offers.
Mr Peter Kipsang, a Baringo County resident who was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago, says the unit saved his life.
"I almost died because of the long wait before treatment as I had to travel to MTRH in Eldoret. Now I can easily access the services in Nakuru. I have undergone several chemotherapy sessions there," he says.
The National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) covers cancer treatment at the facility, taking care of up to 20 sessions.
To boost health services in the region, the government is building a Sh1 billion radiotherapy centre.
Now 80 per cent done, it will give hope to millions of people who cannot afford treatment in private hospitals.
The radiotherapy centre is the fulfillment of a pledge that President Uhuru Kenyatta made during the burial of former Bomet Governor, Dr Joyce Laboso, in August 2019.
He had promised to establish cancer treatment centres in Nakuru, Mombasa and Garissa. Health chief administrative secretary, Dr Mercy Mwangangi, urged residents to take advantage of the facilities and get screened.
"This is great news to cancer patients in Nakuru and neighbouring counties. The radiotherapy centre and the oncology unit will save many lives. I urge residents to visit the facilities for screening and management of the disease as early detection is critical to treatment," says Dr Mwangangi.
"People in villages simply die because cancer was not detected early. Screening will reduce the cost of treatment."
100 patients daily
Dr Mwangangi says the national government is keen to partner with the 47 counties to ensure more people are tested.
The radiotherapy centre, whose construction is funded by the national government and implemented by the county administration under the Universal Health Coverage, will begin its operations soon.
"The facility is almost ready as only external works are pending. It will complement services offered at the oncology unit and will have a direct impact on over three million people in Nakuru, Bomet, Nyandarua, Kericho, Laikipia, Baringo, Kajiado and Narok," says Dr Kariuki.
It will handle up to 100 patients daily, reducing cases of referrals to MTRH and KNH.
"Training and recruitment of medical staff for the radiotherapy facility is ongoing. So far, all is going on well," he observes.
The facility will offer, among other services, mammography, fast diagnosis of breast cancer and a variety of interventional therapies. Dental x-rays orthopantomogram (OPG), intra-oral periapical radiograph (IOP) and interventional radiology services will also be offered at the complex.
Governor Lee Kinyanjui says his administration will open more health centres at the grassroots as it seeks to boost medical services.
"To ensure our people are treated well, we are constructing health centres and refurbishing existing ones to boost the Level Five hospital and other major facilities. A healthy county is a happy county," says Mr Kinyanjui.
At the main hospital, the county government has constructed a Sh600 million outpatient complex that will house dental, optical, dermatology, and ear, nose and throat (ENT) units.
Nakuru has other key facilities, such as the Sh550 million Margaret Kenyatta Mother Baby Wing, which has a 250-bed capacity, and is the largest after Nairobi County's Pumwani Hospital.
Opened in October 2019 by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, the maternity has boosted prenatal care in the region. It's an impressive, state-of-the-art facility that sits on 75 acres.
The county government has also revamped several health facilities that had been built between 2013 and 2017, but had been abandoned for various reasons.
The county health docket was allocated about Sh6 billion in the last two financial years.