Mammography in Kenya’s Biggest Hospital is a Nightmare

Back in 2010, my mother started having bad breast pain at age 55. She had just retired as a nurse from Kenyatta national hospital (KNH), the biggest hospital in Kenya and East Africa. My mother worked with KNH for many years and she had built herself up the corporate ladder slowly by slowly up to when she retired with a decent retirement package. Little did she know that she would have to go back to KNH to seek help to save her life from killer breast cancer. Doomed she was.

The nightmare started when she was referred to mammography department to confirm her diagnosis. If I could go back how all this unfolded, initially my mom thought she had a boil on her breast ans treated it as if it was one. Her breast was swollen, red and tender and had a hole that was oozing foul-smelling pus. As a nurse, she knew exactly how to treat a boil from home without going to the doctor. She thought she got this.

Months and months went by with her boil getting more and more swollen, red and from a small hole to a bigger wound. It is expected to develop swollen lymph nodes closes to the infected wound and so, having swollen lymph nodes on the same side as “the boil” wasn’t alarming to my mom. It all seemed to follow the normal expectations of an infected boil. Antibiotics both topical and systemic didn’t make any improvements until I called my mom from Boston, USA and asked her seek a physician advice.

As soon as she got to the doctor, breast cancer image was screaming and shinning to the doctor’s ears and eyes. It was at this point she was referred to KNH to get a mammogram. My mom thought she knew her way around in KNH but to her surprise, the only mammogram machine was out-of-order and she was told it shouldn’t take long before they could have it repaired.

Six or so months later, the mammogram machine was restored and the waiting list was as long as they get. Call it corruption or whatever you want to call it, my mom through knowing whomever she knew could not be screened any earlier than a month ahead from the day the mammogram machine was restored. That was a big lie. The machine had up and down time almost every other day. The corruption was open.  The ones who could use the back door and give the technicians/radiologist chai/kitu kidogo (corrupt money) were given priority.

At times, playing by the rules is a recipe to death! We had to use the corrupt way and my mom got a mammography the same day. Think about this for a second, besides paying for mammography, we had to corrupt somebody to do it. Otherwise, a year or two would have passed waiting for the mammography which was obviously confirming the truth.  After the doomed mammogram, my mom had breast tumor — DUH! Her affected breast was more than twice the size of the unaffected one. Long story short, we ended up spending more than KSH 15,000 for the mammogram due to travel, corruption and the cost of doing the mammogram.

Full body CT scan was done together with biopsies and the truth unfolded that she had a stage 4 breast cancer with metastasis to the lungs.  Her breathing was compromised anyway as a long time asthma sufferer.

Surgery was done successfully but radiation therapy was way too expensive to afford. We tried chemo therapy, fund-raisers left and right. We afforded a few radiation therapies up to a point when she had to be put in critical care unit. The critical care unit in KNH private wing is a money milking cow. ‘

My Mom succumbed to breast cancer 11 months after the damn mammogram was completed. My mom died in pain, weak, wasted and with smelling breast cancer wounds that had perforated the skin to look like cauliflowers with bloody pus.

Kenyatta national hospital ought to change the corruption culture that one has to pay something behind closed doors to get anything done. From what I later got to know, down times on this precious mammogram in heart of Kenya’s capital, in the biggest hospital in East Africa is due to intentional sabotage. Wait times are not only caused by low number of mammogram machines in Kenya but also due to human sabotage to create artificial demand.

I strongly believe, just like the corrupt police system in Kenya, KNH higher officials are part of this corruption scheme. No one gives a damn. There is no way to explain how a mammogram machine can be “out of service” for 6 plus months without higher management intervention, while few individuals are using the machine privately on tax payers money.

I know my mom died of breast cancer gone too far before intervention but the situation in KNH is killing thousands more. What about those who can barely afford a mammogram? How are they going to afford the damn corruption money? Who has answers to my painful questions? Does anyone give a damn anymore or is it a matter of self-enrichment?