Kenya Monday signed a multi-billion shilling deal with India to build East Africa’s biggest cancer hospital beginning early next year in a move that places healthcare at the centre of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
President Uhuru Kenyatta agreed with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fast track construction of the hospital whose establishment was first announced during Mr Kenyatta’s visit to Delhi last year.
Kenya’s Ministry of Health officials said the hospital will offer radiotherapy, chemotherapy, advanced surgery and bone marrow transplant services.
Cancer is the third leading killer disease in Kenya after pneumonia and malaria, according to the 2016 Economic Survey.
Kenya reports about 40,000 new cancer cases every year, but only has a few hospitals with the capacity to offer treatment.
President Kenyatta is hoping that establishment of the hospital will help save the Kenyan economy the billions of shillings that Kenyans spend every year flying out for cancer treatment in India.
Mr Modi, who also signed a deal to help Kenya manufacture generic drugs, said India would help Kenya become a regional medical hub through a combination of financial and technical assistance.
Cancer related deaths have been rising steadily in the past five years from 11,995 in 2010 to 12,574 in 2012 to a high of 15,714 last year, underlining its increasing burden on the economy.
A section of the proposed cancer hub, whose bed capacity and details are being worked out, will serve as a research and training centre for health professionals.
It is hoped that a new state of the art cancer treatment centre will ease pressure on the few public hospitals that offer cancer treatment, including Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital where machines have in the past broken down, hurting patients.
Most poor homes cannot afford healthcare in expensive private hospitals. Kenya has a relatively poor public health infrastructure plagued by acute shortage of doctors, a lack of essential drugs and medical equipment.
India is renowned for a relatively well-developed healthcare system that is backed by a large pool of generic drugs manufacturers, specialist doctors and highly equipped hospitals.
Kenya also opened a window for public-private partnerships with Indian firms to expand the range of affordable drugs manufactured locally, including anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs – a move that should further help Nairobi save billions in hard currency outflows.