Long before I went into politics, I was fighting for the economic, social and political rights of the disadvantaged in Kenya, especially women. In 1997, I was elected as the first female Member of Parliament from Nairobi. I represented that constituency for 15 years before becoming a Senator.

After my party won the election in 2002, I joined the government as Assistant Minister for Education. I then served as Minister for Public Health and Sanitation from 2008 to 2013. One of my top priorities was improving maternal health. By establishing health centres throughout the country and training nurses, we were able to significantly reduce the death rate for women giving birth and for children under five. The current First Lady of Kenya has taken progress in maternal care even further with the Beyond Zero Campaign.

In 2011, I learned that I had breast cancer. It was a shock, and my first instinct was to keep it secret because of the stigma associated with this disease in Kenya. I was lucky that my tumour was at an early stage and could be treated successfully. It took some courage, but I decided to come forward with my story and the importance of early detection. This generated a great deal of media coverage, followed by an upsurge in women around the country getting check-ups.

Recalibrating healthcare priorities to fight cancer

Working with the United Nations, development partners and other non-government organisations, Kenya has been very successful in reducing the toll of communicable diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. In recent years, though, we have seen non-communicable diseases such as cancer become a major killer. My personal story has heightened my awareness of the suffering caused by cancer and the need to take action.

Public-private partnerships are essential to address healthcare issues of this complexity and scope. In Kenya, Roche is contributing by sharing its extensive knowledge of oncology and helping to improve patient access to timely diagnosis and treatment.

Everyone needs to come together to tackle this disease. That is why I have established the Beth Mugo Cancer Foundation to promote access to information, detection and treatment of breast, cervical and prostate cancer. Once again, Roche is partnering with us by providing research data, basic training on cancer, support for patient organisations, and links to like-minded international organisations.

Based on these kinds of strong partnerships, I can envision a country where healthcare is accessible and affordable to all, people are well informed about health matters, and we have a health sector that serves the public efficiently.