Personalized medicine, a promising catalyst for equitable health

Evelyn Gitau, Interim Director, African Population and Health Research Center. She says personalized medicine is efficient and effective in enhancing healthcare and well-being. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Evelyn Gitau, Interim Director, African Population and Health Research Center. She says personalized medicine is efficient and effective in enhancing healthcare and well-being. PHOTO/Courtesy.
  • It involves tailoring medications to specific personal needs.
  • Encompasses harnessing advanced analytics, biomarker testing, and genetic sequencing.
  • Advocacy for broader adoption in Kenya is needed.

One size does not fit all in the realm of healthcare. Everyone is unique, with various environmental influences, lifestyles, and genetic makeups. 

It is this realization that has given rise to personalized medicine, which is an innovative approach that carries a tremendous promise for achieving equitable health outcomes in Kenya and Africa. 

By tailoring medical interventions and treatments to the specific needs of every patient, personalized medicine has the potential to revolutionalize healthcare in Arica. 

We delve into the exciting world of personalized medicine and explore how it can translate into a catalyst for equitable health in Kenya.

Researchers need to explore new models and tools with Africa continuing to experience a comparatively high burden of diseases.

This is especially in infectious diseases such as Malaria, HIV/AIDS and prolonged communicable diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and diabetes. 

“These problems actually affect an estimated 1 billion people, which leads to about $800 billion loss in annual productivity,” says Evelyn Gitau, Interim Director of the African Population and Health Research Center.

Personalized medicine

“It is about being more efficient and effective in enhancing healthcare and well-being,” explains Ms. Gitau. 

Personalized medicine is a groundbreaking field requiring one to customize healthcare based on environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and genetic information. 

An e-poster of the virtual discussion. E-POSTER/Courtesy.

By harnessing advanced analytics, biomarker testing, and genetic sequencing, healthcare providers can gain insights into a patient’s unique features and create targeted treatment strategies. 

This approach diversifies the traditional “one-size-fits-all” model, where treatments are based on population averages, and instead focuses on delivering effective and precise interventions tailored to the individual.

Examples of new tools and approaches include self-monitoring, like using mobile technology to ensure that data is collected in addressing populations like geospatial testing, genetic testing, and other areas.

Breaking the myth

Dr. George Michuki, a Medical Microbiologist, compared personalized medicine to mobile phones in the 2000s when everyone thought they were very expensive and unsuitable for Africa and people were more stuck to the old ways. 

Today, we are discussing something different about phones; most people own one. 

He suggests that personalized medicine will get there in a couple of years.

The perception that personalized medicine techniques are only for the rich is a misconception. 

Equitable health ensures that everyone, regardless of their geographical location or socioeconomic background, has access to quality healthcare services. 

Dr. Ann Mwirigi, a Consultant Hematologist, Aga Khan Hospital. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Dr. Ann Mwirigi, a Consultant Hematologist at the Aga Khan Hospital. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Personalized medicine can bridge the gap in a country like Kenya, where healthcare disparities exist between urban and rural areas and various income groups. 

It is used here in Kenya, which suggests it can be used largely.

The promise

Imagine a world where healthcare is tailored specifically to you, like a custom-made suit that fits perfectly. 

That’s the promise of personalized medicine. 

Tailoring interventions specifically to you can ultimately improve your health outcomes, minimize adverse reactions, and enhance treatment effectiveness. 

You say goodbye to the trial-and-error approach. 

Dr. Michuki talks of the finances people put in and fundraise for cancer treatments, even up to KSh7 million— but still no assurance. 

“Instead of trying 11 treatments, why don’t you save that money, invest it in personalized medicine, and in return be sure of receiving the correct medication?” he suggests. 

Personalized medicine helps avoid ineffective treatments by identifying patients unlikely to benefit from specific therapies. 

Instead of wasting money, time, and hope on treatments that won’t work for you, view it as a compass guiding you toward the right path of efficient and effective care.

Personalized medicine is all about prevention. 

Identifying an individual’s higher risk for certain diseases enables early interventions to prevent or delay the onset of health conditions. 

Think of the savings! You can save on long-term goals by avoiding expensive treatments and managing diseases at their early stages. 

You have heard situations where you are told a patient died of the wrong medication prescription, but it was too late all along. 

The webinar discussed testing stem cells from a young age to identify the future possibilities of diseases.

Dr. Ann Mwirigi, a Consultant Hematologist at the Aga Khan Hospital, thinks it is problematic. 

She argues that people will stay in fear, and the conditions may never show. 

“Say, for example, testing a child’s stem cells at birth would identify molecular cells that might never affect them till they are 60, which would raise the alarm and cause sort of fear,” she shares. 

In his opinion, however, Dr. Michuki thinks it would be helpful for one to prevent the escalation of the condition even in later years.

An equitable future

Personalized medicine has progressed in Western countries, mostly in treating cancer, but has remained slow in African countries. 

Dr. Rabia Mukadam is a Molecular Scientist and Consultant for the Molecular Department of Pathologists Lancet Kenya.

Dr. Rabia Mukadam, a Molecular Scientist. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Dr. Rabia Mukadam, a Molecular Scientist. PHOTO/Courtesy.

“The EU-Africa PerMed project, which is building links between Europe and Africa in personalized medicine, is a four-year plan funded by the European Commission, a Horizon 2020 program that has a final objective of integrating more African countries into the global personalized medicine research agenda,” she said.

The project aims to facilitate the participation of African countries in activities that the International Consortium for Personalized Medicine is undertaking.

It is being done by strengthening the research collaboration in Africa and Europe in areas of mutual interest in personalized medicine. 

Dr. Damaris Muhia, a Principal Research Scientist and Acting Deputy Director, Biotechnology Research Program at Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), confirms the different research projects ongoing to make huge strides toward personalized medicine.

Empowering patients

With personalized medicine, you, as the patient, are empowered. 

It involves you in decision-making, giving you personalized information about your treatment options and genetic risks. 

With this knowledge, you become an active participant in your care, allowing better treatment plan adherence and avoiding unnecessary complications. 

Dr. Damaris Muhia, Acting Director at Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). PHOTO/Courtesy.
Dr. Damaris Muhia, Acting Deputy Director, Biotechnology Research Program, KEMRI. PHOTO/Courtesy.

It’s about pitting you in the driver’s seat of your health journey.

Personalized medicine is not a luxury; it’s a necessity! 

Call to action

So, as we look to the future of healthcare in Africa, let’s embrace the potential of personalized medicine. 

Let’s advocate its widespread adoption, ensuring it reaches every corner of our continent, from bustling cities to remote villages.

“Let’s not blame the logistics and database and say that it is not enough; let the researchers use the statistics available to slowly but surely make the difference,” Dr. Michuki advises.

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Remember, your healthcare is unique, and your care should reflect that.

Get ready for a future where healthcare is tailored to you because you deserve nothing less!

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Ms. Karangah is a content creator, with a passion for stories around health, lifestyle, poetry, and education, among others. She believes that stories have a profound way of connecting us to each other and they help us understand the people around us, to build empathy and create change. Her contact:


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