Kenyans suffering from cancer, diabetes and heart disease no longer need to travel out of the country, especially to India, for specialised treatment. But now such burdens are set to drastically reduce, following the installation of advanced body-scanning technology at county hospitals.
The project, a national government initiative under the Universal Health Coverage (UHC), seeks to cover 37 counties. The 10 counties were left out are considered to be geographically too close to a hospital in the neighbouring county being fitted with the modern imaging machines.
Four hospitals have already been fitted with the modern equipment: Iten Referral Hospital, Voi Level 5 Hospital, Thika Level 5 Hospital and Narok County Referral Hospital. President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to open another facility at the Kakamega County Referral Hospital during Mashujaa Day celebrations on Saturday.
The government, under its Universal Health Coverage programme, is seeking to take specialised medical services to the grassroots, saving residents the hustle of travelling either to Nairobi or flying out of the country.
The plan is mainly to revolutionise the diagnosis of ailments, especially non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, at the earliest stage possible, and have a modern system of saving a patients’ data for easier follow-up and medication.
The CT Scan centres have fully trained radiographers and radiologists and an all-time functional training centre.
Currently, in most hospitals across the country, patients are referred to radiologists with images for interpretation and reporting. Patients then go back to the hospital with results for treatment.
This has been time-consuming, expensive and tedious.
BETTER THAN X-RAY
Under the CT Scan being rolled out, patients will be attended to through special X-ray tests that produce cross-sectional images of the body and MRI using X-rays and a computer.
The generated images are of higher resolution, which assists the doctor in making a diagnosis. With the CT Scan, doctors are able to visualise small nodules or tumours, which they cannot see with a plain film X-ray.
If a patient has a condition like cancer, heart disease, or liver masses, CT Scans can spot it early enough or help doctors see any changes.
The technology also shows internal injuries and bleeding, such as those caused by a car accident, which ordinarily may not be seen via traditional X-ray.
With the new system, instead of travelling many kilometres to KNH, or in some cases flying out of the country, patients will now be attended to at select local hospitals through the specialised machines that are currently being installed.
The images obtained after the scan will then be relayed in real time to a command centre manned by specialists at KNH.
With the new technology, a hospital for instance in Voi will be able to do CT scans and X-rays and send them to a radiologist remotely in Nairobi.
The doctor in the county hospital who is with the patient will then get immediate feedback, in this case, expert diagnosis from the relayed images.
Where doctors at KNH need a second expert opinion on a certain medical condition, the images will be relayed to another centre, now in India, that will have specialist doctors.
All this will be done in real time, with the doctor and patient at the county hospital getting the feedback within minutes.
Additional support from off-site health experts is set to enable earlier diagnosis and quicker care, especially for NCDs, such as cancer and diabetes.
Doctors and nurses will have access to the relevant information they need to make well-grounded recommendations for patients’ treatment and management, with no need to refer a patient to another facility.
For instance in Kiambu, Health executive Joseph Murega says before the CT scan machine was commissioned, at least 100 cases were being referred to KNH every month, which translates to more than 1,200 cases annually.
Thika Referral Hospital deputy medical superintendent Dr Jacqueline Njoroge said over 600 patients have been scanned since the facility started operating.
His Narok counterpart Dr Grace Odhiambo said the facility has been experiencing difficulties of having to refer to Nairobi patients who are involved in road accidents and require CT scan. This has been resulting in additional expenses for the patients, coupled with the inconveniences and hustles of travel.
In Taita Taveta, before the machines were installed, those in need of specialised treatment were forced to seek such services in neighbouring Tanzania.
For effective operation, a training centre has been established in Nairobi, where radiographers, radiologists and medical engineers are undergoing training on how to use and maintain the CT scans.
The supply and installing is on a government-to-government basis, between the Kenya Government and China.
The engineers are trained on how to handle the CT scanners and other medical equipment.
The training also involves linking all the imaging machines so they can send images taken in different county hospitals to one centre.
Already the training sessions have begun, with local medical engineers being joined by their counterparts from Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.
Besides imaging services and storage of synchronised patients’ data records in all facilities across the country, CT scan centres will also aid in early detection of various forms of cancer and other chronic illnesses.
The government has already raised a red flag over the number of deaths and hospital admissions CS Sicily Kariukis due to non-communicable diseases.
The Health ministry in March said that 55 per cent of deaths and 50 per cent of hospital admissions have been a result of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Health said 25 per cent of the population was either on treatment or unknowingly living with high blood pressure and other heart-related diseases.
And, speaking at a Nairobi hotel on Tuesday, National Assembly Health Committee chair Sabina Chege said: “We have a lot of non-communicable diseases, and the reason they are killing our people is that there is no prevention at the primary level.”
She spoke during a meeting on Domestic Resource Mobilisation for Health in Kenya.
NCDs, especially cancer, have seen many Kenyans leave the country for specialised treatment abroad, financially draining families and the country in general.
The Health ministry, in its Kenya National Cancer Control Strategy 2017-22, says the “economic consequences of cancer are staggering”.
But Megascope Healthcare GM Renne Lupalo said Remote Radiologist Practice, or Teleradiology, is the way to go to save Kenyans millions of shillings and time spent seeking medical care abroad.
“Teleradiology improves patient care by allowing radiologists to provide their expertise without being present with the patient,” he said.
Just as mobile payments have transformed Kenyan markets, tech-innovations in the health sector, such as telemedicine, have potential to help strengthen the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of the health sector.
This is according to the Health Ministry and the Global Fund, which jointly prepared the Kenya National Health Financing Issue Paper in September 2018.
Tech-innovations, they say, would encourage new financing for the sector to further contribute to improved health status and quality of life in the country.
They have also noted that ICT solutions can help empower patients to actively engage in their own care and, therefore, influence the health system. The two have pointed out that elements of care can also be moved from hospitals to homes using connected technology. “This can allow for remote support and tracking therapy adherence,” noted the Health ministry and Global Fund.