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Why cancer is killing more children in Kenya

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Only three out of 10 children diagnosed with cancer annually in the country survive, the cancer institute has revealed. Unlike in the developed world, the survival rate for children affected in Kenya ranges from 10 to 30 per cent, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Chief Executive Officer Alfred Karagu told The Standard in an interview.

Mr Karagu (pictured) noted that every year, up to 3,200 new cancer cases among children are diagnosed. Of these, 140 succumb to the disease. The survival rate in developed countries is over 80 per cent.Leukemia and lymphoma forms of cancer, Karagu said, are the most common.

They account for 16 and 14 per cent respectively of cancer deaths among children.Other forms that have proven to be top killers are kidney and brain tumours.“We have a problem with detection, especially at low-level health facilities yet a simple test like a blood count can tell if a child has cancer,” Karagu said.

Wrong diagnoses

He noted cases where children are routinely treated for aneamia, only to later be diagnosed with cancer. Karagu said this raises questions on how knowledgeable health workers are about the disease.He linked the dearth in cancer knowledge to lack of proper research, noting that out of 300 medical research papers published in the country annually, less than 10 address cancer among children.

Karagu further noted that lack of specialised facilities with a capacity to handle childhood cancer is also to blame.“Apart from the two main national referral hospitals (Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital) we do not have any other public facility that can adequately handle cancers among children,” he said.

Karimi Mutua, an expert in hematology oncology, said separately that children are at a lower risk of being diagnosed with cancer than adults and that is why much has not been done to fight childhood cancers.Dr Mutua noted that exposure to benzene and ionizing chemicals as well as certain genetic syndromes are the main causes of cancer in children.

“More than 95 per cent of the cancers we treat among children have no risk factors,” Mutua said.She noted that cancer symptoms among children are similar to other diseases, and lower level health workers should be keen to make detection.“We have met parents who say they have been to hospital several times without being told that their children are suffering from cancer,” Mutua said.

She also averred that up to 98 per cent of childhood cancers are treatable when diagnosed on time and the right treatment is administered.

By Standard

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I had two choices: Kill my son, or my cancer

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It was nothing, she would tell herself, touching the small dry patch below her right breast as she took in her reflection in the mirror.

She was a woman truly in tune with her body and she felt sure that the only unusual thing about it then was the little bubba growing inside her.

Yes, she was pregnant. It was the best news she had heard in a while. And in that one moment, cradling her barely-there pregnant belly, she realised that life was great. A baby; her baby, was everything she had ever wanted. In that space in time in her 31 years of existence, she felt truly happy.

But now and then, call it a woman’s intuition, as weeks sped by, when Edith Ndegwa stood in front of the mirror, she would lift her glance from her burgeoning belly to the area near her breast. The dry patch was growing.“For a second, I would get panicked. Wonder if it was cancer, but just as fast, I would dismiss the thought. It was painless after all, and I had never experienced any other symptoms anyway,” she told My Health.

This was in 2019, and she was only one month pregnant.Days turned into months. Morning sickness was ebbing away and Edith spent many precious minutes enjoying the little flutters of life in her womb.“It was an active baby. I would feel so much love wash over me whenever I felt the little movements.”

By then, she had already forgotten about the little patch; until around the three-month mark when she checked to see if it had gone away. Well, it hadn’t.Deny, deny and pray you are right“I now had what looked like an insect bite. I hoped that it would go away so I didn’t have to worry. But then the spot got itchy,” she says.

The itch was persistent. No amount of moisturising the skin would take it away. What, however, jarred her into action was that the breast began to discolour.

“Sometimes it would get darker than the left one and other times I would notice a yellowish tinge. It was then I thought that I should see a doctor about it. If for nothing else, to just allay my fears.”At the hospital, she was informed to just manage the itch as they couldn’t give her medication when pregnant.But still, during her antenatal clinics, she would bring up the offending breast and they would check it and send her on her way.It was only at the six-month mark that the doctors told her that she may indeed have breast cancer.They looked sure about the diagnosis.

“They told me that I should terminate the pregnancy to begin my treatment immediately.”This was news that Edith was not ready for. And the one thing she absolutely knew was that she was going to be a mother; cancer or no cancer. Her doctors, however, seemed really worried. “No way I was losing my baby. I was 31. This meant that I really did not have many childbearing years ahead of me. And I was still hopeful the doctors were wrong,” she explained.

At this point, a wound had developed on her breast and it was swollen. But the fact that a few of her friends told her that cancer didn’t present itself the way it appeared on her breast further bolstered her resolve to delay treatment. Other friends would tell her not to go to the hospital as they would cut it off.

Was she worried that delaying treatment would reduce her chances of survival?“I was not worried at all about delayed treatment. At the back of my mind, I was still trying to convince myself that this wasn’t cancer.”One morning at eight months of pregnancy, she woke up to find that her swollen breast had ruptured into two sections at the point there had been a wound.

“I was scared. But I was not going to let the wound stop me from having my child. I decided to take care of my wound. I was going to delay dealing with whatever was happening to give my child as much time in the womb as possible.”Somehow, the wound healed and closed up again.“I knew I needed help. But I needed to give my growing child a chance. I wanted a full-term pregnancy.

At 41 weeks, Edith checked herself into hospital ready to have her baby. She gave birth via C-section to a beautiful baby boy weighing 3.9 kg. Baby Ethan Ndegwa was in perfect health too.

Edith with one-year-old son Ethan. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

“He was so perfect. He distracted me from the excruciating pain I was feeling on my right breast.”The moment the baby was born, Emily was hit by the enormity of what was happening.“I now had a baby, and possibly cancer. The baby had survived. Would I?”Her right breast was now oozing milk and blood. She could only breastfeed him on her left breast.“Eventually I had to give him formulae and sensing the urgency on my doctor’s face about dealing with my breast, it was action time.”However, her CS wound had to heal first. And this took a month.

“I now wanted to live for my precious boy. I spent most of the month reading up about cancer. A part of me still didn’t think I had cancer.”This is despite the fact that now she could feel a lump in her breast.  When the baby was two months old, she packed up for the hospital with her son. She was now ready.The doctors suggested a test on the tissue cells of the wound. Two weeks later, she got the results.

“I had stage 3 cancer. I remember crying as I held on to my son. I was angry. And for a crazy moment, contemplated suicide, but looked at my crying son and caught myself. I guess I shouldn’t have been too shocked as I have a family history of cancer. An aunt and two cousins have battled cancer.”

Treatment soon began with a scan showing that the lungs were also affected and that she was now at stage 4. The doctors informed her that she has little time to live and that surgery was out of the question.

“They said that they would only operate to control the bleeding in my breast.”

She was also informed that she would start on chemotherapy to reduce the swelling and make her life more comfortable.I then moved in with my aunt who also hired a nanny for me as I concentrated on getting better as I began my chemotherapy treatment.

Looking up

Brenda has gone through her chemotherapy treatments and has been responding well to it.

“The swelling in my breast disappeared and by the time I was doing my fifth chemotherapy session, the hair began growing back. Four months ago, a scan revealed that there was no cancer in her breasts, but still had traces of cancer cells in her lungs. And so she was put on Herceptin treatment. This is an immune targeted treatment meant to prevent recurrence of breast cancer or to treat breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast.

“I am taking it a day at a time and hoping for the best that life can give me. Hopefully, my June checkup comes up clean. Ethan is now one and I am grateful to be here with him”.

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Kenyan hospitalized in France with Covid-19 sends home chilling message – VIDEO

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A Kenyan man admitted to hospital in France after he tested positive to coronavirus has sent a chilling message to Kenyans as the country fights to contain Covid-19.

Stephen Kinuthia, popularly known as Wamother or the Duke of Githunguri, shared a video from his hospital bed asking Kenyans to treat Covid-19 seriously, saying the disease is real and infects people indiscrimately.

“What I can tell you Kenyans, this virus is real. I can tell you for a fact that if I was not brought to the hospital I would be dead,” said Kinuthia.

He cautioned Kenyans to be careful while visiting supermarkets.

“Protect yourself, people, and family,” he advised.

Kinuthia, who said he cannot tell how he contracted the virus, noted that his condition has improved since he was admitted to hospital.

He went on to explain how he now depended on tubes to deliver life-giving oxygen to his lungs, as the virus made it impossible for him to breathe normally.

“If they remove these oxygen tubes, my condition would deteriorate at once,” he added.

In the video clip, he took pauses in between some of his remarks and went on to explain that he had some trouble speaking due to the oxygen being pumped into his body.

“The virus infects everyone. They used to say that Africans are immune but that’s stupidity. It is killing Africans; the elderly, the rich, the poor and all the races,” he noted.

He further urged Kenyans to follow government guidelines to stem the spread of the virus, pointing out that developed nations like US, Italy, France and Switzerland have been forced to close their borders due to the seriousness of the pandemic.

Kenya on Sunday confirmed 142 Covid-19 cases, four recoveries and four deaths.

France health ministry data showed 357 people died from Covid-19 in hospitals, compared to 441 in the previous 24 hours, increasing the toll in hospitals to 5,889.

It said that 2,189 people had died in nursing homes since March 1, taking the country’s overall death toll to 8,078.

Globally, the death toll surpassed 68,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, and the number of infections rose to surpas 1.26 million.

 

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It started with an itchy throat, a dry cough then fever

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March 13 will remain forever be etched in Wanga Bress’s mind. Her husband came home from work with some bad news. Some people at his workplace had been diagnosed with Covid-19, including his immediate boss who he had interacted closely with.

Through the ministry of health in Germany, they were put on quarantine, to not leave the house unless necessary. It is then that reality hit her.

The news that cases of coronavirus were rising in Germany had been spreading, but she never imagined it would hit her home.  Then her husband started getting coughs. They were not too worried about it since he always gets allergies during winter. They went for a test and returned home with instructions to keep monitoring their temperatures three times each day.The next day, the bad news came.

“He was on phone with the hospital where he had taken the test. l stood across him, looking at him and trying to pick every word they said. I saw how his facial expression changed to that of horror. I knew the results were not good. Then he confirmed to me that he had tested positive to Covid-19. He had it,” says Bress.

Persistant cough

What followed, she says, was a whirlwind of emotions. Her husband was panicking, giving a list of all people he had interacted with so that they could be tracked and tested.

“I started cleaning and disinfecting everywhere in the house. I took care of him. Our living room has good space, so we ensured there was always a two-metre distance between us,” says the resident of Schmallenberg town in North Rhine-Westphalia State .The other symptoms of Covid-19 began in earnest a few days after his diagnosis. His cough persisted, he would get fatigued and his temperature kept rising.

Bress says at that time, she felt it was important for her to take care of him.“I would give him soup and tea at different intervals. One evening l thought of my mum and how she would cover us with a blanket over a bucket of hot water steaming Muarubaini or Vicks to decongest our nostrils or chest. I decided to apply the same treatment to my husband. I used my facial steamer and added in a little bit of Vicks Vaporub. It worked well. He loved it. That night he slept well,” she says.

It is also the same night that Wanga says her temperature started rising and she started feeling sick.

“I had an itchy throat, dry cough, headache and fever,” she says. The next day, her symptoms got worse. She was now shivering and her temperature kept rising. She started getting anxious, since they were the same symptoms she had seen in her husband, and read on news to be what patients of Covid-19 get.

Deserted streets

“I would take asprin, but I was not getting any better,” she says.

She was called in for a test, one she says is extremely uncomfortable.

“Taking a coronavirus test is not pleasant at all. A swab stick is pushed so deep in the throat. I almost threw up. Then the same swab is pushed in one of the nostril,” she says, describing the moment as scary.

The streets of Germany are deserted, and only people with security clearance are allowed in hospitals. The air around is eerily quiet. Patients go in unaccompanied, and unlike the past where sick people go for tests held by their loved ones to assure them that things will get better, coronavirus means going in all alone.

She was not given any medication, as there is none yet. She was told to continue being on quarantine and manage her symptoms. As of Wednesday, she was beginning to feel better and her temperature was getting lower, a sign that her body’s immunity was fighting the virus.

“The condition spreads so fast from one person to another. We were told to only treat the symptoms as they come,” she says.

She records her symptoms every day and ensures she keeps away from her two children who have not shown any symptoms yet. Her experience has awakened her to the fact that coronavirus is real, and it takes just a few interactions to get it.

By Standard

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