The recent death cases of cancer patients in the country, a majority being high ranking leaders in government and in the corporate world has elicited critical questions on how serious the government is in rescuing its citizens from the jaws of the ravaging disease.
In the most recent past, late Safaricom boss Bob Collymore, Kibra Member of Parliament Ken Okoth, Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso are some of the leaders who have succumbed to cancer after unsuccessfully seeking treatment overseas.
Since 2010, at least 10 prominent Kenyans have succumbed to various types of cancer. Some of them are Wangari Maathai (2011), former minister and Kiambaa MP Njenga Karume (2012), former Nyeri Governor Nderitu Gachagua (2017), Former Kitui West MP Francis Nyenze (2017), Harvard professor Calestous Juma (2017), TV personality Janet Kanini (2017) former Baringo South MP Grace Kipchoim (2018), former Migori Senator Ben Oluoch (2018) and Jonathan Moi (2019).
Besides these known cases, a number of Kenyans whose deaths are not highlighted by the media die of cancer every day.
According to reports, an estimated number of 90 people succumb to cancer every day. Unfortunately, such cases go unreported, until a prominent person dies!
As a majority of Kenyans come to terms with the need to prioritize the fight against cancer by declaring it a national disaster, poor people who can not afford treatment at India, in the United States or in the United Kingdom cry themselves to sleep every day waiting for their day to come.
In 2014, then Standard Media Group Crime reporter Dennis Onsarigo highlighted the plight of the people of Marsabit and Mandera Counties, who are silently suffering from the dreadful disease.
In the documentary dubbed Desert of Death, Onsarigo narrated how the apparent children of a lesser god, continue to lose their loved ones to stomach and throat cancer.
Down the memory lane, on Friday, the day Ken Okoth died, Onsarigo reminded Kenyans of this painful story he covered in 2014 and 2015 on his program — The Inside Story.
“In 2014 I travelled to Marsabit where I did an investigative piece on dozens of deaths as a result of THROAT AND STOMACH CANCER. One year later, the victims I had filmed battling the deadly scourge had died,” he wrote on Twitter.
He echoed the same words days after the late Bomet Governor Laboso’s death.
In the story, the reporter had highlighted how young children, mothers, fathers and their grandparents travel through the painful cancer journey without proper medication.
Then, the youngest cancer patient was three years old. The boy died a few weeks after Onsarigo visited the area.
In fact, Onsarigo found out that the residents had no money to buy food, leave alone transport to get them to the nearest hospital.
Loss of weight, chest pains, throat pain, belly swelling among patients paints the picture of the sorry state of residents, a majority of whom died less than a year later.
Unfortunately, as unearthed in the investigation – Onsarigo found out that the killer disease might have been caused by human activities in and around the county.
In Kargi village, Onsago identified wells that were dug by a foreign oil company about 30 years ago in the quest of oil in the region.
The wells are the source of water for the residents and their animals.
According to a health officer who Onsarigo interviewed, majority of the patients that the local hospital admitted had drunk from the well, and there were sufficient reasons to believe the water, contaminated with excessive levels of mercury and other chemicals, is the cause of cancer in the area.
At the time, the medics disclosed that at least 64 cases had been reported in Kargi village, the numbers rising by half from previous years.
Doctors received three cases related to cancer every week.
Alarmed, a government report recommended for the closure of wells drilled close to the oil exploration sites over suspicion that something toxic may have been dumped in the area.
The report recommended that residents find alternative water points for their animals and own consumption. To date, dozens continue to fall ill.
Besides the government, various experts including foreigners examined the water and concluded that it was unfit for human and animal consumption.
Besides human deaths, reports indicate that as of 2014, over 2000 cattle had died after drinking water from the wells.
Where the problem started
Sometime in May 1984, Amaco Corporations, the parent company of Amaco Petroleum Kenya was given the green light for prospective oil in Kenya. The agreement signed with Amaco was close to Ksh691 million.
The exploration would according to the government and the international giant oil company roll out on a staggering 14,000 square kilometres and Marsabit was at the centre of the plan.
Amaco dug at least five oil wells among them Sirius-1, Bellatrix-1, Chalbi-3, Hothori-1.
The wells would later deprive residents happiness.
Increasing cases of cancer in the region raised an alarm in 2006. A government delegation was sent to probe the matter.
A report by the National Environment Management Authority of Kenya (NEMA) revealed that indeed water in the region that locals depend on for their daily activities was not fit for consumption.
The cases of cancer deaths continue to be reported in the region but little has been done to correct the situation as residents still use the water to quench their thirst. Besides mercury, the water is said to have high levels of nitrate chemical compound.
A filter was installed in the area to lower the level of contamination in water but a few years later it’s not in use. Experts warn there is more than contaminated water, begging the question of which substance was left behind during the excavation.
The residents just like many poor Kenyans in the country who can not afford early screening of cancer or access specialized treatment continue to wait for help that may never come, all they stare at is increasing number of graves that remind them of their forgotten state.
In 2014 I traveled to Marsabit where I did an investigative piece on dozens of deaths as a result of THROAT AND STOMACH CANCER – the link below https://t.co/bOQy6bZI1G
One year later, the victims I had filmed battling the deadly scourge had died below https://t.co/AwZzQxrueX
— Dennis Onsarigo (@Donsarigo) July 26, 2019