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Political & Social Empowerment

CANCER IN KENYA: IS IT A NATURALLY OCCURRING EPIDERMIC OR A MAN-MADE CATASTROPHE?

Cancer in Kenya
Hon. Kenneth Okoth, MP for Kibra

Apparently the cost of disobedience at the Garden of Eden was steeper that anything Adam and Eve could ever have envisaged. Initially, man was created to be immortal and infallible just like the angels of the heavens but only better. He was created in God’s own image and was ostensibly meant to possess most of his limitless longevity, intelligence and basically drank straight from the fountain of youth. But the turning point was the provision for the freedom of choice. The caveat here was that any choices would ultimately precipitate consequences. The misfortune in all this is that humanity was created naïve to the wiles of the universe and ultimately fell prey to them. Retribution was heavy! This loosely translates to his stripping of divine health, free habitation in a sumptuous nirvana, know-how and worse of all that propensity to exist in perpetuity. While at the beginning everything was provided for by the supreme deity in the aftermath of our primordial parent’s transgressions life became a matter of struggle just as in the bestial realm, the survival of the fittest. So much for the much-touted freedom of conscience.

Many years ago the city lifestyle had not caught up with us. Food generated as a product of our arable activities was plentiful and sufficient to feed us all. The landscape was verdant and bucolic in appreciation of the splendor bestowed upon our land. Fruits and vegetables were in copious supply and the welfare of everyone was a communal affair. As populations were still small and urbanization had not spread far and wide, we still had the grace to enjoy the fresh air and pristinely sprung water straight from nature’s fountains untainted. Playgrounds were vast expanses of land where a young mind was accorded the freedom to run around, play and weave their imagination as far as the eye could perceive. Our ancient way of life was convivial and wholesome leading to strong and healthy individuals ready to take the bull called life by the horns when they came of age.

Then came the missionaries and European settlers who gave way to colonialism. This brought upon our indigenous communities the white man’s outlook of industrialization that got everyone in a damn hurry. Rural to urban migration became the modern reality. The Whiteman’s education destroyed the harmony of society as it promised corpulent rewards and blinding lights only to those willing to abandon the rural setting for the hustle and bustle of city life. But still our colonial masters maintained a semblance of organization and civility on how they went about planning of urban areas mainly with regards to reticulation, zoning regulations, utility supply and most importantly sewage disposal. The rustic and self-sufficient way of provincial life now gave way to the fast-paced and seemingly glistening yet subservient albeit tick-like dependent way of life in the city. After independence from our Caucasian overlords, was left upon us residual a legacy of capitalism and basically everyone for himself – God for us all! All open space was taken up by real estate. Haphazard cropping-up of infrastructure became the norm as city planning and zoning committees existed only on paper. Worse still, civil service was now seen as a way to personal aggrandizement and no oversight was performed by government aficionados in antipathy to the strictures of any portion of their mandate. Moreover, all that had been afforded to us by nature in years gone by has virtually been destroyed and is now lost to future generations.

Modernization is not all bad as it has solved a few of yesterday’s conundrums and led to the invention of cures to the maladies that afflicted society previously. In the 80’s and 90’s the HIV menace ravaged humanity in a way few cataclysms have. Men and women who were hitherto energetic, virile and luscious as a consequence of their youth soon started to waste away and suffer incessant and gradual pilfering of their salubrious comportments. As no medication offered a lasting remedy to this situation, many people in the developing world thought of this as a curse wrought upon humanity as a result of grievously angering the guy upstairs. Those not so perceptive started accusing their next-door neighbours and friends-turned-foes of witchcraft, if not giving them the ‘evil-eye’. Governments sat up and took notice after seeing so much of its youthful and productive populations succumb to the vagaries of this syndrome. Concerted efforts in modern medicine have birthed forth the ‘anti-retroviral therapy’ that has ensured that HIV-AIDS is no longer a death sentence but merely a medical condition to be managed like many humanity have had to grapple with for eons anyway. The scourges of the past like malaria, bubonic plague, smallpox, dysentery and polio among others have all been sufficiently contained to the glee of humanity. However, a new threat has arisen that has sent many medical practitioners scampering back to the literal drawing board, Cancer. The grouse with cancer is that its exact causative agents and vectors are neither well understood nor documented. It could as well originate from a myriad of sources. It not only baffles but with each passing day continues to defy all preventive and remedial measures thrown in its path. Apart from conclusive proof that overexposure to high-energy electromagnetic radiation is one of the causes of cancer from the tragic epilogue to the lives of Nobel-prize winning scientific forbearer; Marie Curie, her daughter Irene and son in law Joliot not so much can be conclusively explained with relation to the true origins of what is now with great trepidation referred to as the Big C. Cancer has afflicted both man and beast for eon; however, it is only today that this infestation has taken on epidemic proportions as to threaten the entire human existence.

To understand what Cancer really is you have to delve into a topic that I am ill-equipped to comment on but in all due gratitude to the input of friends and relatives in the medical profession and since circa 1998; Dr. Google, I will attempt to do justice to the topic of Human Anatomy. Anyone who studied Biology in High School may have heard of the word ‘Cell’. This is the basic building block of any organism. You may also have deciphered your teacher yapping on end about anaphase, prophase and telophase. Cells naturally undergo division in the ongoing process of repair and / or replacement of their worn-out counterparts, growth, reproduction and basically all the processes that are parceled as life-sustaining. Cancer in layman’s language is the propensity for rapid and uncontrolled cell division of hitherto normal cells to the extent of encroaching into and eventually destroying normal body tissue and in most cases proliferating as unsightly nay painful tumors. Tumors are to most intents and purposes a normal medical phenomenon. Most tumors usually end up being an unforeseen accumulation of fluid or tissue on an inconvenient location of the body that is seldom too harmful and can be removed with minimal fuss. These are the benign tumors. The problem is with the malignant tumors. These are quite aggressive, invasive and for lack of a better word – diabolical as they gradually break down the nascent structure of a body tissue, irreparably damaging its functionality. This is life-threatening!

Often when the discussion comes up, people mention something or other, usually death as the great equalizer but apparently the formbook has been torn to shreds by the emergence of this medical monstrosity. It has proven to possess no discrimination whatsoever with regards to demographics. It attacks the rich, the poor, young and old all with equally menacing impact. Those that are publicly venerated in their passing are the newsmakers of the day like our lionized Nobel-prize laureate Wangari Maathai, Former Cabinet Ministers John Michuki and Njenga Karume, Governor. Nderitu Gachagua among a host of other dignitaries. It did not escape my attentions that close to two months ago we had to bid farewell in quick succession to Safaricom CEO – Robert Collymore; the joint pioneer Female County Executive in Kenya, Former Bomet Governor – Her Excellency Joyce Laboso and lastly the most impactful, visionary and altruistic of our current crop of legislators, Former Kibra MP – Hon. Kenneth Okoth. I am sure any of you reading this post is afflicted by this scourge in one way or another by the loss of a close relation or friend that needless to say did not receive nearly as much publicity as the aforementioned sages. Not to alarm anyone but we are all firmly in the firing range as potential sufferers. I am on record in a previous post decrying our predicament as a nation of being unwittingly forced into consuming lead and mercury compounds passed off as sugar, plastic cavorting as rice, meat full of hitherto banned Sodium Metabisulphite, chicken injected with steroids not the least being anti-retroviral therapy medicament for rapid fattening, milk preserved with just a hint of chloroform and cheap liquor laced with methanol expecting no serious health consequences, come on! The Government under the auspices of the Kenya Bureau of Standards is expected to play the role of quality control. How well they do that is a matter of conjecture.

As famous 1970’s pop musician John Lennon once quipped, “Life is what happens when we are busy making plans.” Should we merely be sitting ducks waiting for whatever fate will befall us? In our desperation to reduce the probability of being the next victim many have taken radical steps to avoid almost any food that has a hint of not being organic-based. Conspiracy theorists have laid blame squarely at the door of genetically modified organism and foods which I think is escapist thinking. This is in lieu of the fact that Genetic Modification in itself is a naturally occurring process. In many cases Genetic modification results in a bigger, fleshier fruit that will be misconstrued as the same enlargement of human tissue that often results in cancerous tumours. This in my view is an aberration of reason. For instance, when two neighbouring farms grow two different varieties of the same grain crop and due to pollination, gametes from one crop are transmitted to the next, that inherently results in the alteration of the resultant genome of the next produce. Both the fruits and subsequent seeds will have encoded within new genetic information. Genetic Modification guarantees food security thanks to the additional properties added to a crop by the same process, but could our strife for food security be the portal through which we are letting in our doom? I may harp on and on but to avoid digression and getting labeled as a blind campaigner for GM, I will reserve that topic for another day’s discussion.

What measures are to be put in place to safeguard our lives against the potential havoc being wreaked by this unspeakable infestation?

  • As a taxpayer, I would urge the government to declare Cancer a national disaster and just like HIV-AIDS in 1999, subsidize life-saving medical procedure and medication to give the afflicted a fighting chance against this scourge. The most important resource on earth is humanity. It has become an epithet of empirical wisdom that most families are poised just one medical emergency away from financial ruin. It behoves the government of the day to soften the blow for the millions who find themselves in this quagmire. As a matter of fact, I needn’t be seen to be begging when I urge that each County Referral hospital should take on the role of a Cancer Treatment & Research Centre. We needn’t any longer be partakers of medical tourism in India and Israel when the requisite medical procedures could be found within our borders. With affordable medi-care, even routine check-ups will become a way of life. At inception, Cancer patients will not have any anomalous marks on their foreheads meaning that only these check-ups exist as a means for early diagnosis. Just like any other medical condition, the earlier the diagnosis the faster the path back to good health.
  • Additional to proper medical care, palliative care should be made universal and dignified for all cadres of society regardless of the depth of your pockets. Many nations beat their chest about how civilized they are but as 38thS Vice President; a highly enlightened human-being Humphrey Hubert once put it, “the moral test of a civilization is how well it threats the vulnerable: those at the dawn of life – children, those poised at the twilight of life – the elderly and those at the shadows of life – the sick & handicapped.” No one deserves to suffer the loss of human dignity enshrined constitutionally merely as a misadventure precipitated by the lightness of their pockets. Emergency Cancer treatment should no longer be viewed as a luxury service for the but as a basic need for all.
  • We need a revolution with regards to our lifestyles. Modern life is more sedentary as convenience is availed at our doorsteps obviating the need for physical exercise. Even agricultural activity is mechanized so we no longer have to till the land, weed crops, personally spray insecticides and harvest. Our children no longer have space to play and run around and therein lies the malady. Lifestyle diseases that in times gone by used to afflict middle aged men and women like diabetes, hypertension, arthritis and deep-vein thrombosis are now affecting people as young as those in primary school and that is sufficient cause for alarm. Additionally due to our hectic way of life we have no time to exercise let alone eat healthy. Longevity has been proven to have a direct correlation with consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. When fried meat/potatoes, processed foods and industrially synthesized fruit juices become our only cheaply available source of nutrition, then we cannot say we are doing well. Who is to say that the changes the modern man is undergoing does not make him a suitable substrate for the processes that are a recipe for cancer?
  • The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) is a crucial statutory body in ensuring quality of all products consumed by the citizenry of this country. It is therefore imperative that the personnel is empowered so as to perform this critical role as effectively as envisaged. This includes the hiring of men and women with high-level expertise and integrity to effectively execute their mandate. Enforcement of standards should be a crucial stricture paramount to all. It is tear-jerking that it had to take the initiative of private investigators to unearth the malevolence that has been systematically fed to willing buyers and citizens of the republic in antipathy to our constitutional right to consumer protection. Why are we paying people to sleep on the job? A few heads have rolled and been taken to court at KEBS not forgetting the game of musical chairs at the Ministry of Industrialization. But I dare pry, who could possibly put a numerical value to the deleterious impact of the villainous concord between fiendish entrepreneurs and rogue KEBS aficionados? Our man-eat-man way to capitalism will in due cause cost us our greatest wealth, which is our own collective health.
  • It’s not be lost on the wise, the dictates of the Ministry of Health warnings on Cigarettes and Alcoholic beverages. Overindulgence is harmful to your health. Also the wise man once postured that prevention is better than cure. As per World Medical Organization reports, a critical mass of Lung and Liver Cancers occur for no other reason than our failure to exercise temperance to our vices.
  • There are segments of our population that through no fault of their own find themselves with insufficient melanin to protect their skins against the debilitating effects of Ultra-Violet radiation consequent to our direct equatorial insolation. The black man has long been reviled and discriminated, sometimes turned the butt of unfair jokes for his skin pigmentation but currently as per the dictum of empirical medical knowledge, cases of melanoma and carcinoma have proven to have a lower incidence among the darker population. My message to the skin-lightening brigade is to stop lest your quest for presumption of beauty be turned into an avenue to the unwanted early grave! Hope my message is sufficiently lucid.
  • Environmental degradation and pollution plays an unequivocally crucial role in the occurrence of many medical anomalies. The World owes us nothing but will ultimately require duty of care from the most intelligent of God’s creation. Cutting down forest cover diminishes our natural sponge to absorb not just green-house gases but also compounds that will deplete the ozone layer that is vital in protecting earth from the deprecating effects of cosmic radiation. When waste is let lose into our water supply and air, without a doubt negative consequences will manifest onto humanity. I charge anyone with access to Google Earth to have a look at the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria and compare the water colour with our Ugandan and Tanzanian neighbours and not feel a tinge of dismay if not embarrassment!

 

  • Last but not least, pray as there is little else that can be done about genetic predisposition to some forms of cancer.

 

The overarching message here is that even in the midst of so much despondency, there is so much we can do to even if temporarily forestall the surge of the Big C. Resilience and adaptability have been the hallmark of all forms of life that have ever stood the test of time. Uncertainty notwithstanding, let’s put our faith on medical researchers and believe that ultimately as surely as the scope of the human mind eternally grows, we will find a way to tame the unspeakable beast.

By dennismukoya

I am a consummate thinker of new solutions which I passionately endeavour to implement.

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