Personal initiatives are crucial in preventing and managing cancer

by Symptom Advice on February 7, 2012

Published on 04/02/2012

Saturday was World Cancer Day. the whole world needs to focus and reflect on a disease that is claiming thousands of lives globally everyday and giving tremendous stress to health delivery system in almost every country. once it strikes, cancer is expensive to treat and difficult to manage. many types of cancer can still not be cured by either traditional or modern medicine: they are the number one enemies of humankind.

Yet it is now known that cancer can be prevented through proper and good nutrition, a balanced life style, keeping oneself fit physically, mentally and spiritually, and keeping the environment clean.

The news that Kenyans might have been consuming vegetables contaminated by a cancer causing pesticide for the last 20 years is therefore both disturbing and hurting. the chemical known as dimethoate, reported to be in about 25 pesticides, is mainly used in keeping pests off vegetables and fruits. It was banned in Europe in 2009, but we Kenyans are banning it only now!

Following the call from Dr Songa of the Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya should not only ban pesticides but also step up measures for reviewing the use of chemicals in crop and animal production so as to eliminate any that may cause cancer.

In this regard, the Pharmacy and Poisons Board has its job cut for it; so are other stakeholders in this field like the Pests Control Product Board, Agro-Chemicals Association of Kenya, Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya and USAAID’s Kenya Horticultural Competitive Project. the umbrella body, the Horticulture Crop Development Authority, needs to ensure that Kenyans grow and consume healthy products free of cancer causing elements either in pesticides or fertilisers.

There are at least 90 different types of cancers that affect human beings in various parts of the body such as skin, the central nervous system, the head, the neck, the thorax, the breast, the digestive system, the genitourinary sites, the gynecologic sites, the lymphomas and myeloma, the musculoskeletal sites and pediatric tumors.

Although facilities for diagnosing and treating cancer in Kenya are still very few compared to the needs of the people, it is now known that the most prevalent types of cancer here are breast, throat, stomach, colon, pancreatic, cervical and prostate cancers. the Africa Cancer Foundation has taken awareness about these cancers as its primary responsibility. how does one take precautionary measures to prevent them, what are their symptoms and where does one go for help when afflicted?

While medical science is capable of tracing the origin and causes of these various types of cancers, there are now good reasons to believe that dietary and environmental factors have a lot to do with the spread and escalation of cancers today. It is therefore better to err on the side of caution by encouraging proper and healthy diet and keeping our environment as clean as possible.

That we make money by producing and eating cheap food may only satisfy our needs for today; in the long run it kills most of us. that we rush to the urban areas to crowd there looking for elusive jobs while living in torrid conditions may be behaviour compelled by circumstances; but we as a people need to go an extra mile and ensure that life is not endangered by abject poverty. Society as a whole needs to give protection to the less fortunate.

Kenyan towns and cities are full of garbage and pollutants; in fact, in the highly populated sections of our urban areas squalor competes for space with human beings in a way by which the human beings themselves ensure that the density of squalor progresses algebraically on a daily basis! This is a tragedy.

Just as we have gathered courage to improve our infrastructure after many years of slumber, we must now gather courage to improve our health system by establishing Universal Health Care as well as improving on our social determinants of health such as good and clean water, proper habitation, clean environment, good nutrition for all and minimal violence in society.

In all this, the Government and the private sector must be good partners. It is always the role of the Government to take the lead and show the way, making it possible for investors to make money while conscious of the basic needs of society. One basic need that is always forgotten — or taken for granted — is health. This can no longer be so.

The health of every Kenyan is not his or her personal affair; it is the affair of the individual extended into society. very soon the degree of poor health of individuals in society begins to affect the degree of health in society as a whole: its health in terms of economic growth as well as its health in terms of how healthy individuals make use of their disposable incomes.

It is almost certain that every Kenyan who earns a salary spends a good part of it on harambees that seek to pay the health bills of the sick or the mortuary/burial bills of the dead. Cancer is fast becoming a major contributor to these bills, and we can avoid this phenomenon by taking preventive measures earlier and using Universal Health Care to take this “sickness load” off our individual backs.

The steps that the NHIF has taken to have more robust health insurance schemes with the teachers, civil servants and the disciplined forces is a move in the right direction that we need to applaud. but more work still needs to be done by the Ministry of Medical Services to ensure that all Kenyans have universal health cover. the framework for this must be put in place this year as we establish the devolved system of Government. This must be done; it will be done.

The writer is Minister for Medical Services


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