Mrs. Saraphina Gichohi, is the Chief Executive Officer of Nyeri Hospice with over 11 years experience in palliative care and over 15 years experience in nursing and teaching in medical training colleges.
The journey to her current position started way back in the nineties when she was working as a nursing instructor in a school of nursing.
“I used to see cancer patients in distress, in pain others with fungating wounds which really used to have foul smell. The medical personnel didn’t do much for them either due to ignorance or attitude, I could not tell. I used to ask myself, what I can do to relieve this distress and the smell of the fungating wounds,” Says Mrs. Gichohi.
Even after cleaning the wounds with different antiseptics, Mrs. Gichohi says the wounds were still having foul smell. The patients could scream in pain even after they were given several injections. That prompted her to join a local hospice (Nyeri) in the year 2002 to learn about the care for cancer patients.
“Palliative care has completely changed my life and the way I execute my duties as a state registered nurse and now as a specialist nurse in palliative care. I used to look at just the physical aspect part of care for the patient, not knowing that the patient requires a holistic approach of care (psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual) to achieve quality of life since it is the main goal in any health related care provided to a patient/client.” She says.
Palliative care has converted her, not to take good health for granted. “This is because I come into contact with patients whose general condition looks fairly good at the time they are referred to the hospice, but after a few months, some look completely different with cachexia and many other complications.” She says.
Nyeri hospice, located in Central Kenya is involved in diverse service provision including home based care, day care, bereavement support and education & training for carers and health workers. In the course of providing these services, many people have been transformed and have learnt a lot about palliative care.
The hospice CEO says that there has been reduction in stigma about hospice care as local people never understood about hospice care. “They used to associate hospice with death but through educating them that hospice care is about living and coping with a life threatening illness, they have changed their perceptions.”
Mrs. Gichohi says that patients have also transformed and they appreciate the services they receive from the hospice. They see the hospice as a source of hope and comfort for them since their symptoms, worries and concerns are taken care of.
She says that their families are counseled and empowered on care and they attend day care services to share experiences with other families.
“I have heard opportunities to attend conferences and training in South Africa and Uganda. I have interacted with health care workers from other African countries during my palliative care training with Oxford Brookes University and University of Dundee.” She says.
She adds that palliative care in Kenya is way ahead and she commends Kenya Hospices and Palliative care Association (KEHPCA) for scaling up palliative care in all corners of our country.
“KEHPCA, under the leadership of Dr. Zipporah Ali, has been able to influence the two Ministries of Health in Kenya to integrate palliative care services into the services provided by government hospitals. It has influenced the nursing and medical training curricula of most training institutions to include palliative care and was the lead for palliative care, in developing Kenya’s first National Cancer Control Strategy and the National Palliative Care Guidelines. The association has advocated for pediatric palliative care in Kenya as well as a diploma course in palliative care to be started at the Kenya Medical Training College.” She speaks of KEHPCA’s effort in ensuring palliative care receives recognition in Kenya.
She adds that many health workers have been trained and continue to be trained through collaboration with Nairobi Hospice and Oxford Brookes University.
Mrs. Gichohi said that the University of Dundee Scotland has trained many health workers through distance learning in their Masters programme, while hospices in Kenya have continued to provide short courses in palliative care training for health workers.
This, she says, will ensure easier expansion of palliative care services as more health care workers gain prerequisite knowledge in the palliative care field.
Mrs. Gichohi was awarded a Head of State commendation (HSC) in 2009 for expanding palliative care around Central Province while Nyeri Hospice was awarded an International Development award for similar effort.
“I see myself scaling high in palliative care in Kenya and East Africa. In the near future I foresee majority of patients with life threatening illnesses having access to palliative care services with proper pain and symptom management.” She speaks of her near future.
She passes a message to health workers that palliative care is a type of health care for patients and families facing life threatening illnesses and that it improves the quality of their lives. It is a field that provides the patient with practical informational advice and legal tools to cope and manage their illness.
Her advice to health care providers is to change the attitude of ‘there is nothing more that can be done, after all he/she is dying.’