Prostate cancer patients covered by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) can now access an innovator prescription drug manufactured and distributed by Janssen Kenya, one of the pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson, as part of a strategic development to expand access to quality treatment regimes in Kenya.

Following the signing of a joint Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between NHIF and Johnson & Johnson Middle East FZ-LLC (Janssen Kenya), the prescription drug, Abiraterone Acetate used for the treatment of advanced prostate cancer will be made available to NHIF members within their existing benefits package.

Speaking after witnessing the MoU signing by NHIF and Janssen, Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache in a speech read on her behalf by NHIF Chairperson Lewis Nguyai described the partnership as a landmark development that will help boost the local access to innovator drugs.

The Ministry of Health and NHIF, she said, has been actively engaging innovative pharmaceutical companies to seal similar private-public partnership agreements that will facilitate access to innovator drugs at affordable rates.

“The Ministry of Health and NHIF has sealed this landmark MoU with Janssen as part of our ongoing foundation building to ensure the success of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) national rollout. We are proud to be associated with Janssen for taking the lead in opening up access to an innovator drug such as Abiraterone Acetate, which will enhance positive health outcomes for prostate cancer patients,” Mochache said.

Visiting Senior Vice President for Emerging Markets at Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson Mr Asgar Rangoonwala reiterated the company´s commitment to boosting access to innovative medicines in emerging economies. The company, he confirmed, is pursuing public-private partnerships to enhance access to safe, effective medicines and vaccines in developing countries for the most vulnerable patients.

Said Rangoonwala: “At Janssen, we are committed to advancing medical innovations that address unmet health needs in resource-limited settings. The MoU signed with NHIF is one of our partnerships to rollout new access models and equitable pricing strategies that improve the availability of our medicines to patients in emerging countries such as Kenya.”

NHIF CEO Dr. Peter Kamunyo echoed the importance of the partnership in Universal Health Coverage, confirming that NHIF has reviewed and expanded the range of benefits available for cancer patients. He said the review of benefits is geared towards alleviating the plight of cancer patients and increase access to medication.

“The Fund’s core mandate is to provide medical insurance cover to all its members by ensuring that the range of benefits remains value-filled. The spirit of UHC is to ensure access to quality and consistent healthcare services needed by all Kenyans without having to be impoverished because of the high medical bills. We are negotiating for such innovations so that the cost of medication required to save lives fits within the packages offered,” Dr. Kamunyo said.

AMREF Health Africa Group CEO Dr Githinji Gitahi speaking at the event lauded the partnership which he noted will help alleviate the plight of patients undergoing cancer treatment. While reiterating the need for a functional cancer registry to guide response strategies, Dr Gitahi highlighted the need for patient centred approaches to healthcare delivery.

Currently, the NHIF cancer care package entails up to 10 chemotherapy sessions, oral and injectable anti-cancer drugs, inpatient, and outpatient oncology services, 20 sessions for radiotherapy, and up to two sessions for Brachytherapy for advanced cancer, per year. The health facilities that offer the package include some level five and six hospitals and selected private hospitals in urban centers.

NHIF covers six sessions for the first-line treatment for up to Ksh25,000 per session, four sessions for second-and third-line treatment for up to Ksh150,000 per session, and 20 sessions of radiotherapy at Ksh3,600 per session. At the diagnosis level, the cover includes a biopsy under the surgical package in addition to Radiology including MRIs, ultrasounds, or CT and PET scans.

Cancer remains one of the major non-communicable diseases in Kenya and ranks third as a cause of death after infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases. It is estimated that there are 42,000 new cases annually and approximately 28,000 cancer-related deaths every year. More than 70% of cancer cases are diagnosed late when treatment outcomes are poor, and palliative care is usually the only management amenable.