How Cultural Practices, Traditions Are Hindering Fight against Cancer in Kenya

How Cultural Practices, Traditions Are Hindering Fight against Cancer in Kenya

Cancer is today ranked the third leading cause of death, in Kenya, after infectious and cardiovascular diseases.

Statistics indicate that from 2012 to 2018, the annual incidence of cancer increased from 37,000 to 47,887 new cases. During the same period, annual cancer mortality rose almost 16%, from 28,500 to 32,987 cancer-related deaths.

As medical experts try their best to fight the disease, categorized as chronic, it has emerged that cultural practices and traditions among some Kenyans are hindering the fight.

According to Dr. Busakhala, Wisindi Naftali, a healthcare practitioner, specializing as a Physician, even in this 21st century, there is a number of people who still link cancer to witchcraft and the work of the devil.

Dr. Busakhala

“Others say nobody can treat cancer and end up giving up early saying they leave it to God,” said Dr. Busakhala in an interview with Uasin Gishu News at Eldoret Hospital.

The Physician says there is a treatment for the Cancer disease and that it has nothing to do with witchcraft.

A belief that once operated on worsens the cancer is also another myth that Dr. Busakhala says is a hindrance to the fight.

“Some groupings believe when you have cancer and go for surgery it makes it works. They say cancer and a hospital knife don’t go the same way, a notion that is wrong and misleading,” he says.

Traditional Medicine

There are also a group of people within the society that believes so much in herbal medicine – largely because of their traditions and cultural upbringing.

But Dr. Busakhala notes that even though some herbal medicines have in the past been used to treat other diseases when it comes to cancer, there has never been a herbal doctor who has done thorough research to reach a conclusion that a specific kind of herb has the ability to treat any type of cancer.

“We have traditions that believe in herbal medicine – but the truth is that herbalists never do research on medicine, it is mere guesswork,” he notes.

And even as medical experts work on addressing the myths around this chronic disease, they also want the government to work towards ensuring there are sufficient facilities that can treat cancer.

The Eldoret Hospital healthcare practitioner notes that even though the county has the equipment to treat cancer, they are not sufficient.

It is recommended internationally that for every 200,000 people, there should be at least one cancer center. With over 50 million people in Kenya, there should be at least 250 cancer centers, a threshold we are yet to reach close to.

Dr. Busakhala during the interview at Eldoret Hospital.

“We’re very far. We don’t have sufficient equipment. We need counties and national government to come together and set up a cancer center in every county that is fully functional – with radiation services, surgeons, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy,” says Dr. Busakhala.

Until we have enough cancer centers that are fully equipped, Kenyans will keep depending on health services from other countries like India that are better equipped.

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