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Lest we forget other life-threatening chronic diseases

<p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Just the other day I sat in clinic and watched a grown woman
break down in tears. She tried her level best, but the stream of tears kept on
flowing. While I did my best to hold back my tears and console her, my heart
was breaking on the inside. Her insurance cover was exhausted and she had no
other source of income to cater for her continued chemotherapy. This is
unfortunately not a new scenario in clinics all over the country.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">I reflected upon the fact that as we battle the COVID-19
pandemic, the health issues of our other patients with acute illnesses and
chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart failure to name a few have
not stopped. Cancer patients still have the same fears and questions: what
stage is my cancer? Is my cancer curable? What treatments do I need? What are
the side effects of treatment? Will my cancer come back? Will I be in pain? How
much will my treatment cost?</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">In addition, cancer patients and indeed patients with other
medical conditions are watching the news and hearing that they are at higher
risk of getting complications from COVID-19. Therefore, they now have new fears
and concerns. They worry about their safety to come for reviews and treatments.
How their immune system will respond if they get infected with COVID-19? Transport
is more expensive and harder to get. Some imported medications are taking
longer to come in. And with the recent lockdown of four counties, some patients
may be cut off from their regular doctors.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">As my colleague and friend, Dr Andrew Odhiambo, so aptly
described it in a recent Facebook post, it is estimated that approximately 700
people have lost their lives to esophageal cancer in the first quarter of 2020.
This is if we are to go by estimates of GLOBOCAN 2018 where 3000 people lost
their lives to esophageal cancer. This figure is likely to be higher and this
is only one cancer type. Imagine if the Cabinet Secretary for Health held a
press conference every day giving us the daily figures of the number of cancer
cases and deaths.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">The problem with chronic diseases is that patients struggle
with their diseases for long periods and the deaths do not have such a shock
factor as a pandemic like COVID 19. Make no mistake, this pandemic is a serious
health emergency that demands all necessary steps being taken. It is however
very important not to forget all the other medical conditions that patients are
struggling with and the resources and improvements they need to be healthy and
productive members of the society.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Cancer diagnosis and treatments are expensive and take long
to complete. While we applaud efforts of National Health Insurance Fund for
greatly assisting patients access care, a lot is still left to the individual
patient and family members to cater for. This will hold true for other chronic diseases
such as patients with kidney failure requiring dialysis or immune suppression
drugs after kidney transplant. Apart from cost, access to treatments such as
radiotherapy is also limited to Nairobi and Eldoret.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">While we stay home to save lives, keep our distance from
others (a metre at the least), wear our masks and wash our hands with soap or
sanitize with 70% alcohol to reduce the spread of COVID19, let’s remember to
pray and support our other patients with other diseases whose statistics you
will not see day to day but they are there in large numbers and still need care
and support.

<p><span style="font-family: helvetica;"><strong><em>By Dr Sitna Mwanzi, Consultant Medical Oncologist at Aga
Khan University Hospital and Chair, Kenya Society of Haematology and Oncology

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