“The greatest wealth is health”, the saying goes, yet sickness, pain, and death are part of human existence. For this reason, palliative care, a service provided to patients and families faced with life-threatening illnesses has been an essential part of human life. It is with a great sense of care and respect for life that the Ministry of Health is working closely with Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA) and other stakeholders to come up with the first National Palliative Care Policy in Kenya.
The most important step of all is the first step and for a palliative policy for Kenya, the first meeting took place on 26th February 2018. The other stakeholders present included, Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi Hospice, Aga Khan Hospital and Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues Network. A background on the need for a standalone National Palliative Care policy was given by Dr. Gathitu a representative of the MOH. Dr. Ali the Executive Director of KEHPCA presented the World Health Resolution on Palliative Care which emphasizes on the strengthening of palliative care as a component of comprehensive care throughout the life course.
Assigned members gave an outline of palliative care policies and strategic plans based on various countries. One of these countries was Mauritius which gave a great insight on how it has developed its strategic objectives in palliative care. The second country was Botswana whose policy has enabled the implementation of palliative services on all levels of health. Swaziland was the third country and it showed that its palliative care policy has facilitated the integration of regulated, coordinated and decentralized palliative care services. In Australia which was the last country to be presented, it was seen that the national system consistently avails reconstructed oral morphine for palliative care.
On the discussions based on the highlights presented, members raised concerns on various issues preceding having a National Palliative Care Policy. One of the concerns was on stakeholders. Members came up with 17 proposed organizations to be involved in the policy formation. Another concern was on creating awareness and a better understanding of palliative care. “It is not only patients who equate palliative care to end of life, many health professionals are equally ignorant”, said Dr. Munyoro. “We need to have an end of life policy separate from a palliative care policy”, she added. Contrary to many peoples’ assumptions, palliative care is not necessarily geared towards a preparation for the end of life but more to living with dignity a pain-free life amidst sickness, and an attainment of the highest quality of life.
In preparation for the next meeting to be held on 28th March, tasks were allocated to the members present. Members were delighted that although the formation of a policy is a long process, the first step was already in place, for a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.