On the evening of 15th November, something special happened.  Eyes and ears were opened, hearts were moved, minds were educated, myths were debunked, conversations began, and we were inspired to do better to fulfill the five wishes.

The Kenya Hospices & Palliative Care Association convened a timely fundraising dinner themed “Unwind and Learn” with the aim to raise funds for palliative care for children. As the evening progressed, it was no longer just about our children who require palliative care, it was a holistic push to advocate this most important health need for everyone, no matter the age. 

Our Guest of Honor was Honorable Willy Mutunga, former Chief Justice of the High Court of Kenya, and a passionate advocate for human rights.  We were greatly humbled to host this visionary, who made us see our role as individuals in the advocacy of palliative care for everyone, beginning in our own backyards (our homes).

Hard questions were asked and challenges were given.  I asked myself these questions in a new light, and it was clear to me that we need to really acknowledge illness and the consequences of this when we are not prepared mentally, physically, spiritually, legally and even financially.


Question 1:  What would you do if an emergency broke out and you were unable to make health care choices for yourself?

Question 2: Do you know who will speak for you if you can no longer speak for yourself? Will it be a loved one? A stranger? A nurse? A doctor?

Question 3: Do you know when you will need someone to speak for you because you cannot speak for yourself?

Many times, these questions are rarely asked.  As Africans, serious illness and death is taboo, and we avoid having these discussions or even interacting with people who are battling serious illness.  This attitude towards illness has been the greatest downfall of people in our communities.  It has brought strife and enhanced ignorance.  In the old days, in some cultures, when someone was ill, they were abandoned in the wild to die or be devoured by wild animals.  Today, we hide our loved ones at home and keep them isolated.  Other times, one will be taken to a hospital or hospice and abandoned there.  Little do we know that abandoning our loved ones during such times is the worst thing we can do.  It is during this time, that we need to show empathy, go out of our way to care for them, make them feel normal, give them the best quality of life they can get at the time, and be their voice.  There isn’t much difference between how we deal with serious life threatening illnesses today and before, except that we do not go to the forests.

What if we really asked ourselves these questions with the seriousness they deserve?  What if we looked at our sick loved ones with empathy and asked these questions on their behalf?  What if we considered their wishes?

Just for a minute, think about it.  Have you prepared yourself and your family just in case you fall ill and aren’t able to soberly make a decision?  You can speak up for yourself with a simple document known an advanced directive/living will.

These Five Wishes lets your family and doctors know:

  • Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them.
  • The kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want.
  • How comfortable you want to be.
  • How you want people to treat you.
  • What you want your loved ones to know.

So, let’s talk about The Five Wishes – its changing the way we talk about advance care planning.  It is a complete approach to discussing and documenting your care and comfort choices. It’s about connecting families, communicating with healthcare providers, and showing your community what it means to care for one another.

The Five Wishes is about coming up with a planner for your care that prioritizes accessibility, understanding and comfort.  This planner should be as simple to understand as possible and should communicate your own spiritual, emotional, medical and legal needs and wishes.  This planner is your voice when you can’t speak or do not want to speak.  In this planner, you get to choose a trusted person that you want to make healthcare decisions for you.

Therefore, the Five Wishes are about:

1. The Person I Want to Make Care Decisions for Me When I Cant

2. The Kind of Medical Treatment I Want or Don’t Want

3. How I want be Comfortable

4. How I want others to Treat Me

5. What I Want My Loved Ones to Know

This is one of the many reasons KEHPCA was founded.  We wanted to create a platform where hospice and palliative care can be accessible to everyone, and a place where all palliative care needs can be addressed with empathy, understanding and an absolute lack of judgement.  Palliative care is a holistic approach that has been recognized by World Health Organization (WHO), it aims to improve quality of life of both the patient and their care givers. It is accorded to both adults and children with life threatening illnesses.

KEHPCA was established in 2007 with the mandate to scale up palliative care services in Kenya so that quality palliative care services are accessible to all who need them. Since its inception, KEHPCA has led the increase of palliative care facilities in Kenya from 14 to 70 to date.  Over 30,000 patients and their families receive this care annually compared to about 5,000 annual patient turn over in 2007.

If you would like more information or guidance on how to go about the five wishes for you or a loved one, please reach out to us via the following channels:

E-mail: info@kehpca.org

Tel: +254-20-2729302

Mobile: +254-722 507219

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kehpca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KEHPCA

Author: Dr. Zipporah Ali – KEHPCA

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