Hospice care, home-based care and legal aspects in palliative care provision are among some of the services provided by Nyeri Hospice staff to thousands of patients, families and communities within Nyeri County and many of the surrounding counties that form the Central Highlands of Kenya.
Started in 1995, it was the first rural hospice and a satellite branch of Nairobi Hospice to cater for patients with life limiting illnesses. It started with 10 patients in 1995, and to date a close to 6,000 patients have been attended to. The HIV/AIDS scourge was at the hospice’s opening the leading killer but that has since changed with cancer now the leading killer. Ministry of Health statistics show that there is an increase in the number of patients suffering from cancer and other non-communicable diseases. The statistics detail that cancer is third in the list of killer diseases in Kenya.
Starting with a staff of only 3 that has now grown to 12, Nyeri Hospice has become the ideal example of a functioning hospice in a country that so needs more and more palliative care institutions. The Nyeri Hospice staff of 12 includes 3 nurses, a medical social worker, a part-time medical doctor and a pro bono lawyer. A chaplain visits every Wednesday during Day Care to cater to the spiritual needs of the patients and their families. Nyeri Hospice was founded by Mrs. Kathy Sembhi in the centre of Nyeri Town but moved five years upon the acquisition of permanent premises to the outskirts of town.
One of the reasons for Nyeri Hospice’s success is the collaboration and partnerships it has with the County government, well wishers and the community it serves. With health services devolved to county governments, it is imperative that they support palliative care and the Nyeri case is one of the best examples of this. This collaboration has led to the inclusion of palliative care in the county strategic plan. The support from the County government also extends to the seconding of medical staff to the hospice.
Through help from Nyeri Hospice, three 3 satellite hospices are operational, one in Nyahururu (100km away) in 2003, in Laikipia (60km away) and another one in Murang’a (65km away) in 2006 to make palliative care accessible to the patients who cannot make it to Nyeri regularly. In addition to Nyeri County, the hospice caters to patients from areas such as Kirinyaga County, Mathioya, Nyandarua and Laikipia counties and until recently Murang’a County. Every third Wednesday of the month the hospice provides Legal Aspects service with Stoma group therapy held every second Wednesday of the month.
Nyeri Hospice Chief Executive Officer Saraphina Gichohi says, “Palliative care does not end when the patient dies. It goes far beyond.” It is based on this premise, that the hospice also incorporates education and training through advocacy. The advocacy work is mainly aimed at raising awareness on cancer which is the leading killer in the region.
Training, Education & Advocacy
Nyeri Hospice regularly conducts various palliative care training for health professionals and volunteers in the community. Advocacy in palliative care has been carried out through education programmes in communities throughout the Nyeri region and its environs. This has been through various forms of communication such as radio and television programmes and newsletters. Advocacy has made palliative care a reality in this region.
Their message has spread effectively among the masses as they have targeted schools during visits between the months of May and July. They have found out that once pupils and students understand the importance of palliative care, it is easier for them to pass on the same message to their families and relatives. “This has been instrumental in large numbers of the population gaining knowledge about palliative care; and led to many more people seeking palliative care and or some of the aspects provided by the hospice,” says Mercy Owiti, a senior nursing officer.
The hospice depends largely on volunteers who help out during Day Care. The hospice also trains community carers who go back to the villages and take active roles there as well in terms of care provision. Volunteers at the hospice largely come from medical institutions in and around Nyeri.
Nyeri Hospice’s work has been recognized at an international level with the institution having won the Award in International Journal of Palliative Nursing (IJPN) from the United Kingdom.