For the first time ever, breast cancer patients in Kenya will receive treatment and a drug that can cure early stages of the disease in a public hospital for free.
The first batch of patients, about 20 people, are set to get the first dose of the drug on Thursday at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
The patients were selected following a diagnosis by the immunohistochemistry analyzer machine which was unveiled at KNH by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta last year.
The diagnosis gives results that predict how aggressive the cancer is and how it will respond to certain drugs thereby informing on specific treatment for each individual.
The drug in which the breast cancer patients would be receiving is Herceptin. It will be given as an injection which targets a protein that fuels the growth of aggressive breast cancers that do not respond to treatment.
Herceptin would have set back patients KSh 250,000 for a dose. And with a patient requiring at least 18 doses to be treated, a regimen would in total cost close to KSh 4.5 million.
Kenya has a huge and growing number of breast cancer patients. According to statistics from the Kenya Network of Cancer Organisations (2012), approximately 4,500 women have the disease with almost half that number below 50 years.
Ministry of Health’s cancer program head, Dr. Anne Ng’ang’a said the drug’s availability is as a result of a 2016 partnership between the Kenyan government and Roche, an international pharmaceutical firm. She said:
”The government foots 50 percent of the cost and Roche the other half. This is a stop gap measure at the moment. For sustainability, we are thinking of roping in the National Hospital Insurance Fund as it supports chemotherapy to ensure more Kenyans get the treatment in the future.”
Ms. Benda Kithaka, the chairperson of Women 4 Cancer said:
”It is exciting that I have lived to see the day that breast cancer patients have access to Herceptin. Now we do not have to worry as this will open up the path for similar drug access programs for other cancers affecting both men and women.”
According to a 2016 University of Manchester study, Herceptin in combination with another drug called lapatinib (Tykerb) shrinks certain breast cancer tumors in 11 days.
This means that women who respond to this treatment combination might be able to totally avoid chemotherapy.