Young, graceful and full of hope was the spirit Rose Nasimiyu (fondly known as Princess Nasimiyu) exuded when she graced the media four years ago.

The valiant young girl had hit news headlines after publicly announcing that she had cancer in 2011, and for days she had the nation in apt attention.

Then aged 9, Nasimiyu had just been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a disease which was slowly squeezing life out of her.

But, although the long, tedious and painful chemotherapy sessions left her frail, her spirit remained sturdy, ever willing to fight for yet another day.

She embarked on a campaign to sensitise the nation on cancer, whose debilitating effects were beginning to be felt across the country, even though rarely reported.

Through media interviews and social events, the term cancer began to sink in people’s minds.

At about the same time, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, the then Minister for Medical Services, was diagnosed with — and successfully treated of — prostate cancer.

In an interview back then, Nasimiyu (who is now 13 years old) expressed optimism that she would outlive the deadly disease.

“I will conquer cancer, and not vice versa,” she said.


One year after her diagnosis and a myriad of costly chemotherapy sessions, she was declared cancer-free.

Though both Nasimiyu and Nyong’o were battling different types of cancer, they shared a similar predicament: excruciating pain, unending chemotherapy treatments, treatment abroad and a triumphant survival.

Unfortunately, their stories are the exception in a country where cancer is ranked as the third leading cause of death.

As lack of funding and inadequate radiotherapy and chemotherapy machines systematically cost people’s lives, poor data on the burden of the disease to the country and its people is proving a daunting task for medical experts.

In his speech while commissioning the Managed Equipment Service programme recently, the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Dr James Macharia, could only give old statistics on cancer, saying Kenya registers about 27,000 new cases annually even though other, more recent studies put that number at 40,000.

Last year, the Kenya National Cancer Association compiled a report based on data received and processed at the Nairobi Cancer Registry.

The data, which was used to generate national estimates, was drawn from a population-based registry concentrating only on residence within Nairobi and incidences reported between the year 2004 and 2008.

The chair of the association, Ms Anne Korir, acknowledged that getting actual representation of the burden of the disease was challenging to due to lack of resources.

Currently, the cancer association has only two permanent staff, and Ms Korir said that they relied on grants from donors to enable them employ on contract.

“The government… has not employed enough people to assist in data collection yet it is a crucial aspect in realising the burden.

Without it, we are in the dark,” said Ms Korir, adding that the challenge was even greater due to lack of a national registry.