Get that heartburn checked, it could be cancer

Most Kenyans would dismiss a simple heartburn for the impact of a bad meal, but it can be a leading symptom of one of the country’s leading cancers.

Dr. Opio Christopher Kenneth, Agha Khan University Hospital Gastroenterologist says there have been cases where patients come to the hospital over cases of heartburn which turn out to be more lethal than the effects of a meal.

For many Kenyans, the high cost of living has meant that they dismiss ailments without seeking medical attention or resort to visiting local clinics, dispensaries, health centers, and chemists.

This has exposed many Kenyans to misdiagnosis and late diagnosis of serious cases like cancer

Dr. Opio says Agha Khan’s new outreach model that is introducing minor surgery facilities and endoscopy equipment to medical centers will help clients get better diagnoses at pocket-friendly prices.

Through clinics like the new Specialty Care Center at Roysambu, the Agha Khan University offers subsidized charges lower than the main hospital hoping to encourage health-seeking behaviors among ordinary Kenyans. 

“For example, people complain of heartburn, we call it Gastroesophageal reflux, we need to see whether the esophagus is burnt out. And you should know that in Kenya cancer of the esophagus is very common, in fact, it is one of the top ten,” said Dr Opio Christopher Kenneth.

“So patients of esophagus cancer may present themselves with symptoms suggesting a heartburn so to make a diagnosis and not to delay the diagnosis we need the endoscopy,” He says

Cost remains one of the biggest impediments to better health-seeking behaviors as households shy away from major hospitals to avoid crippling bills.

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This has aggravated Kenya’s huge misdiagnosis problem as patients seek cheap medical services in local clinics which have no equipment. 

This means the medical personnel relies on secondary diagnoses like stool tests that may not be as accurate as imaging of the internal organs to see the extent of the damage. 

Agha Khan hopes its specialty centers, located in communities where it is cheaper to lease space and with shared faculty of doctors, it can offer subsidized services like dialysis, chemotherapy, endoscopy, and other daycare surgery services.

The hospital wants to latch onto general surgeries like circumcision, gynecology and lumps and bumps removal that is common in many communities at affordable costs. 

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