Kenya only has only eight fully equipped Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines where you can get radiation treatment for cancer. There is one in each of the eight provincial and referral hospitals and two at the Aga Khan Hospital and Nairobi Hospital.
These ten MRI machines are expected to serve 44 million Kenyans. According to the Kenya Cancer Network and the World Health Organisation, there are an estimated 40,000 new cancer cases reported every year and 28,000 deaths due to cancer annually making the disease the third leading cause of mortality. Cancer deaths account for 7 per cent of all annual deaths.
Global standards are ten to fifteen machines per one million inhabitants. In Kenya, there is one machine for every 4.4 million people.
Health specialists claim thousands of Kenyans who cannot afford private healthcare are dying of treatable ailments while waiting for up to a year to be scanned. If you’re really lucky, and if you make the trek to Nairobi or the other major towns, the quickest you’d get access to an MRI scan is three months.
“Cancer does not wait until a person starts receiving treatment. This may be the reason why many Kenyans are dying of cancer because they have to wait two years,” said Nyeri MP Priscilla Nyokabi two years ago when she and other women MPs visited the KNH. The situation would be greatly eased if each county was equipped with an MRI facility. As it is, only 3 out of the 47 counties had by April this year received the machines under a programme where the government is hiring the equipment for Ksh. 38bn per year. The biggest hurdle is lack of the specially constructed building to house the equipment and the acute shortage of oncologists and other specialist health professionals.
But that’s not all. If you need dialysis for common ailments like chronic high blood pressure, kidney stones, or other forms kidney failure, you need to queue for up to six months or even longer, depending on whether the machines are in working order or not.
“We have cases where patients have been told to wait for two or three years by which time they would be dead,” says a health specialist.
The cost of an MRI machine, its installation and a year’s supply of cyrogens (liquid helium and liquid nitrogen) for the operation of the MRI is Sh33,534,100. A dialysis machine costs Sh2m.
Could the county governments afford to buy these life-saving machines?
Yes. County governments are currently spending in excess of Sh241.9 million on staff luxuries like tea/coffee and biscuits/samosas which are all covered by the hospitality/catering budgets.
By our calculations, fatcat government officials could immediately save 100s lives of Kenya’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens simply by halving their teatimes and instead buying 7 MRIs or 60 dialysis machines.
At today’s rate, this amount is equivalent to buying 80 dialysis machines or the cost of a weekly dialysis treatment for 930 kidney patients in a public hospital.
These funds could go a long way in contracting qualified healthcare personnel to run these facilities and enhance health services. Even though at least 38 of the counties allocated 15 of their total budget on health, most of the money was spent on recurring expenditure. 69% was spent on salaries, 13% on operations and maintenance and only 8% on the purchase of drugs.
During FY 2014/15, construction of facilities was allocated 51 percent of the total county health budget. A further 13 percent was allocated to vehicles, including ambulances. Medical equipment had an allocation of 14 percent, while rehabilitation was allocated 22 percent.
Overall, the county government health budget was Sh1,567 per person in FY 2014/15 which is an improvement on the Sh 962 budgeted for in FY 2013/14. However, there was a wide variation in per capita health budget allocations between counties in FY 2014/15, with ranging from Sh4,102 in Lamu County to Sh384 in Laikipia.
Overall, even though county recurrent and development budgets for health have been increasing, the highest increase has been noted in allocations to development which might reflect the county government decision to invest more physical stock such as building new health facilities and providing medical equipment stock.
This means that most of you will have to dig deep into your pocket to access health services. Most Kenyans are now spending 32 percent of their own household budgets for health services. This is more than what the national government or even the county is spending on your health!