It is estimated that cancer is the cause of more than 7.9 million deaths annually, constituting approximately 13 percent of total deaths worldwide. In Kenya, cancer contributes to 7 percent of total mortality and takes the lives of more than 22,000 people each year. Up to 80 percent of these people would benefit from palliative care. It is for this reason that the Kenyan Ministry of Health launched its first National Cancer Control Strategy last month with hopes that it will reduce the incidence of cancer within the country and provide quality services and care for cancer patients and their families. The strategy reflects the government’s commitment to create effective means of cancer prevention and control within the country.
Thanks to three years of dedicated advocacy from the Kenya Hospice and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA), palliative care and pain management were included in the strategy. The Open Society Foundations' International Palliative Care Initiative views KEHPCA as a key partner in East Africa and has provided the organization with funding since 2007. KEHPCA’s national coordinator, Dr. Zipporah Ali—selected by the Foundations to be an International Pain Policy Fellow and a participant in the Leadership Development Initiative—has taken a lead role in liaising with the Ministry of Health and other key stakeholders to promote the inclusion of palliative care in the National Cancer Strategy. Because of this demonstrated leadership, Ali is considered a global leader in the field of palliative care.
The strategy defines palliative care as an “approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-limiting illness.” Palliative care can relieve the suffering of patients and families and needs to be provided to patients as an integrated part of the continuum of care. The strategy acknowledges that palliative care and pain relief are integral to a patient’s quality of life and therefore need to be viewed as essential elements of the national cancer program.
It is our hope that the recognition of palliative care in this critical document will lead to the eventual creation of a national palliative care policy and a government commitment to the development and implementation of palliative care for cancer patients throughout Kenya.