This year’s World Hospice and Palliative Care Day theme was ‘My Care, My Right’ and communicated that palliative care can be demanded by the public – and that, together, every person impacted by a life threatening illness can influence their policy makers to prioritize palliative care financing under Universal Health Coverage. 

  • Worldwide, more than 25.5 million people die every year with serious health suffering that requires palliative care.
  • The number of people who experience serious health-related suffering is much higher, with an additional 35.5 million people requiring some degree of palliative care outside of end-of-life care.
  • Family carers and volunteers are a key component of palliative care services as they provide essential support. Governments have a responsibility under Universal Health Coverage to provide resources for care delivery to ensure patients have palliative care services per this year’s theme: ‘my care, my right’.
  • Less than 10% of the overall need for palliative care is being met globally.
  • More than 80% of these cases are in low- and middle-income countries, where access to immediate release oral morphine, an essential and inexpensive medicine to alleviate pain, as well any other type of palliative care, is severely lacking.
  • Global policies restricting access to opioids mean that millions of people are denied medicines to relieve pain linked to illness or injury.

Here in Kenya, hospice and palliative care is a critical element of the overall health of a person, and ultimately, the caregivers.  We have huge disease burdens in East Africa, both communicable and non-communicable.  The serious health conditions put huge demands on the health care system and on the country’s economy. 

In many African countries, there is a lot of stigma associated with serious health conditions and thus, palliative care is not given the priority it deserves, even at government level.  Accessing hospice and palliative care services which includes access to pain relief medication, counseling services and medical procedures remains inaccessible, limited or not available to many patients and their families. Where the care is provided, there limited well equipped facilities as well as trained caregivers.

African culture has not warmed up to palliative care in hospices and thus the seriously sick and aged from low income communities suffer at home in negligent conditions.  There is also the high cost of medication and care that’s attached to palliative care which is not within reach of the patients’ families and caregivers.

Interventions by organizations such as the Kenya Hospices & Palliative Care Associations have made great strides in the sensitization of the need for hospices and palliative care institutions as well as the training of personnel to deal with serious health conditions. 

These discussions and deliberations help palliative care organizations engage with the government to ensure that the social and legal barriers impeding access to palliative care services are removed.

Author: Kelai Wanjiru, KEHPCA

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