How the ‘grim reaper’ is sweeping heroes and heroines in Kenya

Whether it is through the death of a friend or a loved one, or the hefty medical bills that come with it, many Kenyans have experienced the devastating effects of cancer, either directly or indirectly.

In the month of July alone, the grim reaper (cancer) seems to have descended hard on this nation; targeting men and women from every social class, including prominent names. The sickening statistics are now a major cause of worry for the country’s health sector.

According to the 2018 GLOBOCAN report by WHO’S International Agency for Research on Cancer, out of the 47,887 new cancer cases diagnosed in the country last year, 32,987 Kenyans died.

Our women have been on the receiving end, with the same data showing that the disease claimed 18,772 women compared to 14,215 men last year. 

The prevalence of the condition among Kenyan legislators is shocking. Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko estimates that there are currently more than 60 Members of the House battling different forms and stages of the disease.

But even as these cancer cases continue to rise, here is a sneak peak of some prominent Kenyan men and women who have succumbed to the scourge.

Joyce Laboso

The Bomet County boss died on Monday after a long battle with colon cancer. Until her death, she was described as an icon among women. After defeating Isaac Ruto by a landslide in the last general election, She became among the few women governors in the country.

Laboso had left the country on May 29 for the United Kingdom (Royal Madden NHS hospital) where she stayed before being transferred for further treatment in India.

Ken Okoth

Okoth was serving his second term as Kibra Member of Parliament until his demise on July 26th, 2019,  The 41-year-old had initiated several education projects in his constituency, and given hope to needy residents through bursary allocations. 

He would succumb to colorectal cancer after seeking treatment for five months in France.

Bob Collymore

The corporate titan is credited with driving telco giant Safaricom to a  net worth of close to 10 Billion USD, up from 1 Billion USD when he took over in November 2010, He lost the battle on Monday 1st July 2019. The Guyanese-born British citizen took a medical leave in October 2017 to the UK to receive treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer and returned in July 2018 to resume his C.E.O duties.

He will be remembered for his rich legacy as a leader who transformed the lives of his customers through various initiatives and partnerships. During his tenure, Safaricom was named the best company to work for in Africa. 

Read also: Remembering the man, Bob Collymore


Jonathan Toroitich

The celebrated Safari Rally driver succumbed to pancreatic cancer in April 2019 at Nakuru War Memorial Hospital. He started racing in 1986 and retired in 1997 having won over 800 trophies, including the Africa Rally championship. For two consecutive election periods, 2002 and 2007, he tried his hands in politics when he vied for the position of MP Eldama Ravine constituency but did not win.

Jane Kiano

The former Maendeleo Ya Wanawake chairperson and a gallant women leader succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 74 at the Nairobi Hospital in October 2018. She was the widow of Julius Gikonyo Kiano, a former Cabinet Minister in the Kenyatta government. She was Kenya’s first Ph.D. holder, not a mean fete in their times.

Ben Oluoch

Former Migori Senator Ben Oluoch died on June 2018 at the MP Shah Hospital after a long battle with throat cancer. He had sought treatment in several places including abroad also. He was a former radio journalist who surprised his opponents when he won the senatorial seat in the August 8, 2017 elections, despite campaigning in-actively.

Grace Kipchoim

The former Baringo South MP passed away in April 2018 after succumbing to acute colon cancer at the Nairobi Hospital. She was only 49 years. Kipchoim was re-elected on a Jubilee Party ticket on August 8, 2017, despite being ill at the time.


Nderitu Gachagua

The former Nyeri Governor died of pancreatic cancer on 24th February 2017 at the age of 64 at Royal Marsden Hospital in London. He served as Mathira MP before being elected Nyeri Governor in 2013 under GNU Party.

Before his demise, he had been seeking a re-election ahead of the Jubilee Party nominations in the primaries slated for April that year.

Janet Kanini-TV Presenter

The former TV presenter succumbed to lung cancer on the morning of Saturday 1st April 2017 after a two-year battle. 

In 2015, she went to India for treatment where she stayed for several months before coming back to Kenya, a year later and would be pronounced free from cancer. The popular media personality hosted NTV’s, Property Show.

Francis Nyenze

The former Kitui West Member of Parliament passed on December 2017 after a 10-year battle with colon cancer at the Nairobi Hospital. During his brave fight with cancer, Nyenze would show up Parliament on August 31 carrying an oxygen tank and in a breathing mask for the swearing-in ceremony.

He also chaired the parliamentary committee that investigated pyramid schemes.

Calestous Juma

The renowned Kenyan-born Harvard scholar died in the same month of December 2017 after a two-year battle with cancer. At the time of his demise, he was teaching graduate courses on science, technology, development policy and biotechnology at Harvard University.

He was the only Kenyan listed in the inaugural list of “2017 Most Reputable People on Earth”.

Emmy Chepng’etich Ruto

The daughter of Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto died at the age of 25 after battling with leukemia in October 2014. Until her untimely death, Emmy was an electrical engineer with Geothermal Development Company, Nakuru. She was also the captain of the Kenya National Women’s Cricket Team.

Njenga Karume

Former influential minister and MP for Kiambaa Njenga Karume would follow a year later. He died on Friday, February 24, 2012 after suffering from prostate cancer which had spread and had become impossible to manage.

Professor Wangari Maathai

The conservation heroine and environmentalist icon left quietly on the night of Sunday, September 25th 2011-at the Nairobi Hospital Cancer Centre after battling ovarian cancer. Maathai’s love for trees earned her the Nobel peace prize in 2004 for her conservation efforts, making the first African woman to achieve that fete.

But this is just a list of the few prominent people who have succumbed recently; there is quite a number of others Kenyans who do not always make it to the headlines, compounding the severity of the deadly disease.

Available data shows that Kenya has the highest number of cancer-related deaths across East Africa, It is now prudent that the government needs to swing to action to alleviate this killer condition.


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