Christmas is just around the corner and I am reminded of this song ‘Christmas Shoes’ by Newsong. It talks about a poor little boy who wants to buy shoes for his mother because he’d want to see his bedridden sick mama look beautiful when she finally gets to meet Jesus on the Christmas Eve. It is quite moving for such a little boy to think about someone else, on a Christmas day and have a conviction that Christmas is more than just a day to be clad in expensive clothes and eat the best food ; it’s more of love, care and appreciating the less privileged in the society.

This is a thought-triggering song and reflecting on the Palliative Care Week that has just gone by, we need to ask ourselves what really is important and how we contribute to those that are not as privileged as we are, especially health wise.  We never know how difficult a situation can get until it affects us in one way or another and the highlight here is that we all need each other, regardless of our different backgrounds.Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA) is one organisation that has taken this step to spearhead the message of reaching out to the people in our society that need palliative care services. In line with these year’s theme ‘Hidden Lives, Hidden Patients’, the organisation in conjunction with some of the hospices across the country marked this life-changing event in a special way. Here’s a wrap up of some of the activities that were undertaken during the one-week celebration.Most of the hospices across the country decided that the best way to celebrate this one-week event was by making home visits to the terminally-ill patients. “We went to see some four patients. One has skull cancer and has lost his mother and daughter in the recent past. The other two patients have HIV/AIDS and Diabetes”, says Jane Kago, a nurse based at Kikuyu Palliative Care Unit. This was the case at the Laikipia Palliative Care Centre according to Elemelda Oirere, who says that they visited four stations; two of which had three cancer patients. She adds that the activity was generally a success.As earlier mentioned, the theme of this year’s palliative care week was ‘hidden lives, hidden patients’ and this couldn’t make more sense with patients who are suffering in prisons. It is way difficult for a sick individual even at the comfort of their home or hospital bed to battle the multiple challenges they face as a result; it must be unimaginably unbearable for those who are confined within the walls of a prison. This is why Nairobi Hospice and Busia Hospice made a rather bold move and visited Kamiti Prison and Busia Prison respectively. “These patients really suffer a lot because their medication for instance is less prioritized than going for court sessions”, laments Lynette Kitui, a Medical Social Worker at Nairobi Hospice.Peris Wandera based at the Busia Hospice reports the same for the patients at the Busia Prison and also says that these patients do not get the required diet that they should as per their conditions. This was the case at the Nyeri Hospice where they visited King’ong’o Prison, all the three prison wings; maximum, medium and the women prisons, and highlighted the same challenges therein. The Meru Hospice as well reached out to the hidden lives at Meru GK Prison and donated medicine and toiletries. “The prison has a huge number of inmates and attending to all of them on this day was a bit challenging thus we have come up with a strategy to conduct a screening activity in 2016. The numbers of cancer cases in Meru has been on the rise and therefore the need for a unified action by all the stakeholders,” says  The Nursing Officer in charge, Gladys Mucee. Machakos Palliative Care Unit was also not left left behind. “We visited Machakos Female Prison and we were warmly welcomed by the prison’s administration. We interacted with the inmates and they were grateful at the end of the day for the impact that we had on them,” says Mr. Elijah Musau from the palliative pare unit. They also gave gifts to the inmates and they were grateful for the same.

Ignorance is the biggest undoing that has hit our society in whichever aspect of life. It is unfortunate that the one thing that matters the most, health, is the very one that people, especially in the rural areas, have the least knowledge about. Maua Methodist Hospital and Webuye Hospice took the initiative to hold public trainings on palliative care and the reception was encouraging according to Stephen Gitonga, who is based at Maua Methodist Hospital. They also undertook screenings and paid home visits to 3 patients one with a tongue cancer and one with prostrate cancer.

This message should reach out to the biggest audience possible and Embu Mbeere Hospice took this initiative by involving the local radio station, Wimwaro FM. They took the opportunity to not only advertise their services but also to sensitize people on why palliative care should be one of the  priorities in the society because the challenges associated with terminal illnesses keep growing by day. They also did home visits, “We visited two families in very remote areas to visit patients one of whom has prostate cancer. In the other family, we were really saddened by the situation in the family. We found two children with skin cancer and we were told that two others have already passed on due to the same problem. Well-wishers have been helping the family and one of them is actually planning to build a permanent house for the family because they are weak financially,”says Peninah Njagi from the Hospice. They also held an open forum at Embu Level Five Hospital to create awareness on palliative care and how to prevent some of these terminal diseases such as early screening.

The celebration couldn’t come to a better conclusion at the Nyayo National Stadium on the 10th-11thOctober. The dancing, the singing and the relay for a straight 24 hours is exactly what defines what fun is. “I have been living with cancer for the past 15 years and I must say this has been the most fun part of my life ever since”, says Miriam, a breast cancer survivor. “I came here with my children and I am so grateful that they have stood by me all along and encouraged me that my condition was not going to rob them of me”. She adds that she has faith that she still has a long life ahead of her and would encourage other patients to be strong even when they feel broken. Miriam’s testimony is just one among the many who gave their stories without shame and willingly for they feel they too have a role in helping someone in one way or another.

These are some of the activities that were undertaken during the palliative week and it is clear that the bottom-line of this celebration is not just a remembrance of those who have lost the battle to different terminal illnesses but it is also a chance to come through for someone who needs our help to fight by them and for them in whatever way we can. The notion that terminal illnesses are a death sentence should no longer exist in our society and it is up to you and I to take this message to the patients, medical practitioners and the community as a whole. It is through such acts that hope is kept alive, faith stronger and lives are lengthened.

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