Reducing healthcare access barriers in Kenya

I became a medical doctor because I felt a deep need to help people. After seeing patients every day for more than six years, I realised that my ability to impact the overall healthcare environment was limited. That’s why I joined Roche.

Today my colleagues and I are working to try to change the treatment paradigm for oncology. While infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria and TB remain a priority in Africa, cancer has not received the attention it deserves.

Particularly for breast cancer, incidence rates approach those of Western countries—but the mortality rate is much higher. The average life expectancy in Kenya for breast cancer patients after diagnosis can go as low as eight months. In most developed countries, it can be 10 years.

Think about what an additional 10 years of life means! A woman could raise her children, start a new career, realise her dreams. It is difficult for me to put the value of that into words.

At Roche Kenya, we are partnering with the government to break down access barriers to oncology treatment. And that goes well beyond the price of drugs. From awareness and diagnosis, to increasing the capacity and expertise of healthcare professionals to treatment access, we are looking at the whole continuum.

As part of our strategy to increase local expertise, Roche is providing full scholarships for five medical oncologists.

As part of the programme, we will offer full scholarships for an additional five medical oncologists in Kenya and sponsor a programme to train oncology nurses at a local medical school in Eldoret. We will also conduct preceptorships with local and international experts to improve mastectomy and diagnostic techniques. In cancer diagnosis, we are leveraging our collaboration between our Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics divisions. For example, we are placing a tissue diagnostics machine at a public cancer treatment centre. Additionally, we will provide training to pathologists and technicians.

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"We are forging new partnerships to change the diagnosis and treatment outcomes for breast cancer patients in Kenya."

We are also committed to assisting the Ministry of Health in gathering accurate data on cancer through cancer registry development. We are partnering to support training and provide infrastructure including laptops and software. Good data will provide a clearer picture of the actual disease burden and inform policy for resource allocation. In addition, we are partnering with the government through a public healthcare programme to increase access to some of our innovative breast cancer medicines.

Everything is coming together. Cancer is finally getting a voice through media and advocacy and the government is open and willing to act. Our commitment could not have come at a better time. I truly believe that we have the potential to make a huge difference in improving cancer treatment in Kenya.

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Tags: Access to healthcare, Africa