The Ministry of Health in conjunction with Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA) has launched four important National Palliative Care Documents.

Speaking during the launch, the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Health Mr. James Macharia said that this launch comes at a time when the country is experiencing a rise in the burden of chronic diseases.

“Chronic diseases are not just a serious threat to our social and economic development; they are a real danger to our very existence.” Mr. Macharia said.

Mr. Macharia said that the group of patients going through pain requires special management adding that his ministry shall continue with commitments in budgetary allocation and raising the profile of palliative care in parliament and other sectors to ensure it (palliative care) gets the required attention.

He said that chronic diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Cancer are a major cause of human suffering and debilitation.

The Cabinet Secretary said that since 1993, there have been about three million cases of cancer of which two thirds are from the developing countries.

“Patients presenting with AIDS related and other debilitating illnesses occupy most beds in our public hospitals and developing countries are worst hit.” He said.

This, he said, is further complicated by the fact that many health care workers are not well equipped to provide good quality palliative care which includes end-of-life care.

“The good news is that palliative care is well suited in our country as it is affordable and can be provided through home/based care.” Mr. Macharia said.

He said that the ministry is in the process of ensuring that appropriate pain-control drugs are available for patients in need and that 41 government hospitals are now offering palliative care.

The cabinet secretary said that the launching of the National Palliative Care Documents will result in the eventual realization of one of the key areas of the Cancer Prevention and Control Act 2012, that is, provision of quality palliative care services.

With regards to cancer, Mr. Macharia said that in Sub-Saharan Africa, 80% of patients go to hospital when it is too late to intervene and AIDS is equally devastating, not only killing those who contract the disease but also affects the lives of those dear to them.

“I believe that palliative care has a crucial role to play in the continuum of care for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Palliative care gives us the most realistic, humane and necessary objective for managing terminal stages of cancer and other non-communicable diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa and it aims to reduce pain and suffering, improve the quality of patients and their families.” The cabinet secretary said.

He said that these patients need love, support, acceptance and care rather than stigmatization, discrimination, isolation and ostracism adding that palliative care is holistic care that affirms life and regards dying as a normal process.

Mr. Macharia said the palliative care documents launched should be put to use, so that any nurse, doctor, pharmacist or any other health worker has the skills and knowledge to provide palliative care no matter where they are working.

“My ministry will work with relevant stake holders to develop a national policy on palliative care that will focus on strengthening integration of palliative care, access and availability of appropriate pain controlling medication and capacity building.” The cabinet secretary said.

In conclusion, Mr. Macharia said that each one of us has a choice; whether to continue with the status quo, or take up the challenge and invest now in palliative care for people with chronic diseases. ‘We must make it a human right, with the aim of reducing pain and suffering.’

KEHPCA Executive Director Dr Zipporah Ali said that palliative care strengthens health systems by reducing bed occupancy in hospitals as patients can receive home based care.

“Without education, we cannot provide palliative care. We are working with training institutions to integrate palliative care into their curriculum and we are glad that Kenya Medical and Training College (KMTC) and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital  have already taken it up.” Dr. Ali said.

She said that education is for all and there is still a lot to be done to attain appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes in palliative care.

Dr Ali appreciated the work being done by mission hospital in the rural areas in providing palliative care at the community level.

The Director of Preventive and Promotive Services, Dr William Maina  said that palliative care is important as it ensures those who die go having lived a dignified life.

“These guidelines are to ensure that all people with cancer get comprehensive and continuum of care that is standardized.”

The launch comes less than a month after KMTC launched the palliative care course after the completion and adoption of the palliative care curriculum.