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Agony for children as KNH cancer drugs run out

Cancer drugs for children receiving treatment at the Kenyatta National Hospital have run out, putting the lives of the young ones at risk.

Parents are now forced to buy the drugs expensively from private pharmacies and for those who cannot afford, their children are skipping treatment.

The problem is said to have started over two months ago. Parents who have been nursing their children at the hospital for the last one year said that the shortage started between July and August.


The Sunday Nation visited some of the children admitted to the hospital in ward 3A Room 1, which accommodates about 20 patients. The parents called upon the government to supply drugs so that their children can continue with their treatment cycles.

The paediatric cancer wards at KNH no doubt are quiet places. There are roughly 200 children in the three cancer wards. Many of them come from poor, rural families. They do not have health insurance and cannot even afford to buy the drugs that are sold exorbitantly in chemists.

The drugs and drips prescribed to the children include Vincristine, Doxorubicin, Metacapurine, Allopurinol, Cytoplastin and Cyclophosphamide.

Ms Carol Omondi is afraid that she might lose her daughter any time. The doctor told her last month that the tumour had grown and they needed to change the drugs, which she was required to buy.

When they were admitted on July 3, the child was to get 12 cycles of chemotherapy, but they have only managed five since they do not have the money for the rest of the sessions.


“For the first two months, the treatment was smooth but the last two months, I have literally been struggling to make ends meet. It is very unfortunate, God forbid that I will lose my child because I can’t afford her treatment,” she told the Sunday Nation.

The child has lost her eyesight and cannot walk and she now depends on chemotherapy to survive. She is suffering from Neuroblastoma cancer, which can develop in the stomach, chest, neck, pelvis and bones. Children aged five or younger are the most affected.

Ms Omondi has taken to the social media to look for well-wishers to help her buy the drugs.

“Hello Kenyans, I am a mother of a four-year-old girl who is suffering from cancer (Neuroblastoma). I have to be with her at the hospital since her condition cannot allow me to do any work. A tumour has spread all over her body, including the brain and this has since interfered with her eyesight,” she wrote on Facebook.


“My child has missed the life-saving drugs that are out of stock at the hospital. We are forced to buy but I do not have the money. A tumour is spreading so fast she cannot survive without chemotherapy. Please help me in any way possible to bring my daughter back to life,” She added, giving her contact details.

She needs between Sh106,000 and Sh160,000 for a chemotherapy cycle.

Also in the ward is Wakesho’s child. The child is supposed to go for 18 cycles, so far they have done 16.

“I was admitted in January and the journey was smooth. My daughter was getting drugs very well and on time until July that they started asking us to buy the drugs from outside,” said Ms Wakesho, whose child suffers from acute leukaemia (blood cancer). She spends between Sh16, 000 and Sh20,000 per week.

“Between July and August, we missed all the cycles because we did not have the money to buy the drugs and they were out of stock,” she told the Sunday Nation at the hospital.

Even though the parents are contributors to the National Health Insurance Fund, they said that out of the Sh75,000 which they pay for the oncology drugs, the fund only covers Sh3,600.


“I pay Sh500 every month but the amount they pay is too little, the procedures are limited. I can’t do more than four x-ray in a year but with cancer, every time the procedure has to be performed to see the growth of the tumours,” says Wakesho.

“I feel for the children but there is nothing I can do. It is very painful to see a child in pain because the parents cannot afford the drugs. Cancer kills when not treated early and skipping the cycles is very dangerous,” noted a nurse at the ward.

David Makumi, who chairs the Kenya Network of Cancer Organisations, said the pattern of missing drugs is worrying, especially because they have run 0ut.

For Mr Makumi, an ideal and sustainable situation would be one where the National Insurance Hospital Fund (NHIF) pays for all the cycles.

“Cancer is not like malaria where one type of treatment cures the disease. If you cannot cater for the full treatment, you would rather do without it,” he said.

KHN corporate affairs and communications manager Simon Ithai said some cancer drugs are not stocked at the hospital.

“What I know is that there are some drugs that we don’t stock in our facility. Send me the names of the drugs and then I will talk to the doctor and call you back,” said Ithai, who did not respond to further queries on phone as he had promised.