Kenya-UK Deal to Boost War on Cancer, Training of Nurses

President Uhuru Kenyatta with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July 2021.
11 August 2021

Though scanty in details, the inter-governmental arrangement that creates a special route for Kenyan nurses to temporarily work in the United Kingdom is several steps in the right direction.

For decades, Kenyan nurses have complained how the powers that be belittle them and fail to recognise their input in healthcare. Failure to grab this opportunity would be tantamount to nurses shooting themselves in both feet.

Kenya is seeing an unprecedented rise in the prevalence of cancer. The UK has incorporated a cancer care model which we can heavily benefit from. British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott outlined how some of the skills the nurses will learn in the UK will be geared towards cancer management.

The cancer care centres are ran by specialised oncology nurses, undergirding the role nurses play in modern medicine. They boast the ability to have not only oncology nurses but also an oncologist, a surgeon and, most importantly, scanning facilities.

Kenya trains oncology nurses and this is a good chance to help them specialise further. Nursing is a scientific job, calling for application of scientific methods to humans for specific outcomes.

Cancer in Kenya is usually an incidental and sometimes accidental diagnosis. Before it is diagnosed, patients have been treated for stomach ulcers, typhoid, malaria and, when the stars align, Helicobacter Pylori infection. By the time we call it out, it has spread like a Californian summer bushfire.

Cancer does not approach with the solemn internalised virtue of a descending angel but the brutal spiel of a nightclub bouncer. Cancer centres will empower clinicians to refer patients for examination.

Pay for tests

Healthcare is becoming too expensive for many people in Kenya, who opt to be blissfully ignorant of their own wellbeing. The National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) need to be able to pay for tests related to investigating for cancer. But asking Kenyans to be screened for cancer is not enough. What next?

If NHIF and other health insurers assured Kenyans that they would take care of the investigation needs and the subsequent treatment, then that takes the worry off an already tense situation of falling ill.

This interaction with the UK must not only benefit Kenyan nurses with modern professional knowledge but also create an enabling environment for them to practise what they will learn. In addition, Kenyan nurses must learn to identify golden opportunities and make the best of them.

There is a misconception on who nurses are and what they do. Hollywood movies that portray them as afterthoughts to medicine has not helped the image. I subscribe to a new crop of nurses who are reaffirming their role, unafraid to question unhelpful traditions. These are the nurses who must take advantage of this opportunity and run with it.

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