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Concern over few specialists to handle deadly sickle cell

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Dr. Kibet Shikuku explains a point to journalists at the Bone Marrow Transplant clinic in Nairobi West Hospital PHOTO/Courtesy

Health experts are concerned over the increase of blood disorders in the country.

Ther concern has been precipitated by the rising demand for bone marrow transplant services following the recent breakthrough at the Nairobi West Hospital where a 55-year old patient successfully went through the procedure.

On October 24, the hospital announced the first successive bone marrow transplant.

Today, 60 people have knocked on the hospital’s doors Bone Marrow Transplant services seeking similar services.

“Out of the 60, about nine have been enlisted for the next Phase of transplantation with one of the patients being allergenic, meaning he is a possible client for rejection of the process,” Dr Kibet Shikuku, one of the team leaders at the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) clinic at the hospital revealed.

Hospital can only handle six patients a day. Dr Kibet said Kenyans with sickle cell disease form the population of concern.

“We have chosen the commonest disease- sickle cell. This is because we think the problem is enormous, yet service providers and personnel are not sufficient to handle it. Inadequate data for the number affected is also of concern,” he said during a session with reporters at the facility.

To demonstrate how huge the challenge of blood disorders is in the country, Dr. Kibet took a random facility survey of two key hospitals in the country.

He went to Chandaria Cancer Centre premised at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) in Eldoret and marked out 500 of them with Multiple Myeloma. “My next stop was at the Kenyatta National Hospital, I counted up to 300 patients,” he revealed.

In Kenya, there are a total of 200,000 patients with the sickle cell disease. But Dr Kibet doesn’t agree with this record, arguing that there could be more people suffering silently, a situation he attributed to the lack of awareness of the disease. He outlined the benefits of Bone Marrow Transplan.

“By destroying all good cells that carry the sickle cell disease, we know that other underlying conditions can be treated along the way, or in the process,” he said.

However, Dr Kibet was cautious to add that “this is not clinically proven.”

Many diseases

Bone marrow transplant has been used successfully to treat diseases such as leukaemias; lymphomas, aplastic anaemia, multiple myeloma, immune deficiency disorders and some solid tumour cancers since 1968. “The goal of a bone marrow transplant is to cure many diseases and types of cancer,” Kibet said, and explained that when the doses of chemotherapy or radiation needed to cure a cancer are so high that a person’s bone marrow stem cells will be permanently damaged or destroyed by the treatment, a bone marrow transplant may be needed.

Now the hospital is banking on the success of the next transplants to be part of a growing number of health facilities positioned to support the government’s efforts to market Kenya as the medical destination of choice- in the region.

“We have started negotiations with colleagues in Nigeria for a possibility of the West African country sending their patients here,” he revealed.

To undergo a bone marrow transplant in India, one will pay between Sh2.5 million to Sh4.5 million, where a lot of other costs are hidden. However, if a patient is treated locally, they stand to benefit more including ease in post transplant follow up.

Kibet called on the National Health Insurance Fund to increase allocations for bone marrow transplant from just Sh500,000 to around Sh1.5 million to cater for those unable to pay for themselves.

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