Medical training has for the longest time forgotten incorporating palliative care in its courses despite there being a patient in need of palliative care services at any one given time in most hospitals in Kenya.
This was said by Kangundo District Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Joseph Thigiti during a Continuous Medical Education conducted by Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association at the hospital.
Dr Thigiti said that this has created a huge gap in health care provision hence becoming the most disabling part in medical care.”
“Most medical care providers walk away from patients with life threatening illnesses at a time when they are most needed.” He said.
He added that there is no time patients are in need of health care providers other than when they are terminally ill.
According to the Medical superintendent, most medical care practitioners walk away from taking care of patients with life threatening illnesses because they have no idea how to handle them, or their relatives.
He said that during this trying moment, health care workers act as if they are running away from the commitment they have been having with their patients.
“Health workers need to be empowered in palliative care, not only on how to take care of patients but also how to handle the patient’s relatives.” He added.
Though Kangundo District Hospital has had challenges of creating space for palliative care, Dr Thigiti said they have managed to allocate rooms in preparation for palliative care integration in the hospital.
The hospital, he said, is still pursuing support from its partners to renovate the rooms so that it can fully kick-start the palliative care unit.
According to the hospital nursing officer Mrs. Ruth Wambua, about ten patients are in need of palliative care at the hospital daily.
“We hope to improve end of life care to the community who have always taken our care services positively.” Mrs. Wambua said.
She said that most patients in need of palliative care are referred to Nairobi or Machakos but Mrs. Wambua hopes that the trend would change once the unit begins its operations.
The nursing officer said that the challenge they may have is staffing as she is the only one with a certificate in palliative care though she says there are nurses willing to join her in the race.
Senior Nursing Officer in charge Mrs. Susan Kithusi said that most cases in need of palliative care arise from the gynecology ward as this is where cervical cancer detection originates.
Mrs. Kithusi said that they conduct home visits around Kangundo due to financial constraints adding that they are incorporated in outreach activities organized by the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation touching on areas they specialize in.
“It is saddening for patients to postpone treatment, especially chemotherapy, due to lack of funds.” She said.
She added that these patients turn to health care workers for help hence the need to fast track palliative care service provision at the hospital.
KEHPCA’s Education and Research Officer Dr Asaph Kinyajui said the interest the hospital staff has towards palliative care is huge saying that the association will continue capacity building them in various palliative care knowledge and skills.
Dr Kinyanjui urged them to undertake palliative care courses from institutions offering the same within and out of the country to enhance their skills for better service provision at the palliative care unit once it is renovated.
On shortage of drugs, the association’s Programs Officer Mr. David Musyoka said they are liaising with the Ministry of Medical Services and Kenya Medical Supplies Agency to have enough morphine procurement and supply to hospitals and hospices.
KEHPCA alongside its partners in the medical field is at advanced stages of having a palliative care curriculum in place for medical students taking their studies at Kenya Medical Training College.
This incorporation aims at equipping medical students with knowledge in palliative care at an early stage in their studies.
The Continuous Medical Education is one of the efforts of KEHPCA to equip health care providers in Level 5 and Level 4 hospitals across the country with palliative care skills as it strives to integrate palliative care in government hospitals.