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Cancer therapy resumes at Kenyatta hospital

Cancer patients at the Kenyatta National Hospital can now breathe easy after radiotherapy resumed Monday.

This followed the successful repair of one of the two radiotherapy machines.

The only machines at the hospital broke down two weeks ago, effectively putting the lives of 156 patients who had started radiotherapy sessions on the line.

A visit at the KNH radiotherapy department on Monday showed that the previously deserted waiting room was abuzz with activity as patients lined up for treatment.

Head of department Anselmy Opiyo said 47 patients had been seen by 11.30am.

“We expect to attend to a total of 100 patients today,” said Dr Opiyo.

Ms Martha Waturi is one of the patients whose treatment resumed after two weeks of agony and anxiety.

VERY WORRIED

She has breast cancer, which has spread to the spine. Her left breast was removed last year.

“I am very happy that my treatment has started again. I was very worried when the machines broke down because I feared that my condition might get worse,” she said.

“I had more pain in my back and feet, with poor appetite during the days I missed treatment,” said the 34-year-old mother of two.

“I could have sought treatment in a private hospital only if I could afford. Today I went to Nairobi Hospital because I had heard KNH had arranged for some patients to be treated there. But they told me to come to KNH because treatment has resumed here,” she said.

The hospital has maintained that some patients are being treated at the Nairobi Hospital, mostly those in need of radiotherapy on breasts, head and neck.

This is because the machine that has been repaired is more suited to offer radiotherapy to cervical and prostate cancer patients.

“We have told breast cancer patients they can be treated at Nairobi Hospital in the meantime as we fix the other machine,” said Ms Lily Koros, KNH Chief Executive Officer.

OUTSOURCING THERAPY

She said the hospital would continue outsourcing radiotherapy treatment to private facilities until the backlog is cleared.

However, breast cancer patient Margaret Njeri says the hospital is yet to communicate with her regarding treatment at private facilities.

She has six radiotherapy sessions remaining, which she hoped would help the festering wound on her side to dry up and heal.

By 3pm Monday, she said, nobody from KNH had called her regarding the next course of action.

“I went back to Nyahururu last week because it did not make sense for me to keep staying in Nairobi without attending radiotherapy sessions. I have called the hospital and they say they are still figuring out which hospitals to take us to,” lamented Ms Njeri.

Dr Nyongesa Watta, an oncologist in charge of the Texas Cancer Centre in Lang’ata, said interrupted radiotherapy sessions may make treatment of the cancer more difficult.

She said her facility had been receiving between 5 and 10 patients every day from KNH since the machines broke down.

“This is a private arrangement that has not in any way been brokered by KNH management,” said Dr Nyongesa.

“It is better to delay radiotherapy than to start, then interrupt. Once radiotherapy starts, the cancer cells start multiplying more aggressively, the reason you need to keep up the treatment, so as to kill the cells. Every day treatment is interrupted, the patient loses one per cent chance of recovery” she said.

Dr Nyongesa added that recovering the lost treatment was often very difficult and sometimes impossible.

“Some doctors may prescribe additional radiotherapy sessions to try to make up for the days of treatment that were lost but that does not always work,” she explained.