HEALTH

Awareness key to improving access to palliative care

There have been some promising steps taken by governments at all levels, as well as by researchers, to improve access to palliative care

In Summary

• Providing easier access to hospice and palliative care services is becoming increasingly important for health systems.

• The demand for high quality care is likely to increase with the aging population, the growing number of patients with life limiting chronic conditions and complex needs

Health CAS Mercy Mwangangi and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta during the launch of the Kenya Palliative Care Policy at the Nairobi Hospice on October 8, 2021
Health CAS Mercy Mwangangi and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta during the launch of the Kenya Palliative Care Policy at the Nairobi Hospice on October 8, 2021
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

World Hospice and Palliative Care Day is a unified day of action to celebrate and support hospice and palliative care around the world.

To create awareness, World Hospice and Palliative Care Day is celebrated on second Saturday of October every year. This year’s theme for World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, is “Leave no one behind – equity in access to palliative care,’ with the goal of improving the quality of life for people affected by serious health problems. 

Each year, an estimated 40 million people are in need of palliative care, 78 per cent of them people live in low - and middle-income countries. Worldwide, only about 14 per cent of people who need palliative care currently receive it.

There have been some promising steps taken by governments at all levels, as well as by researchers, to improve access to palliative care.

The move to launch the first Kenyan Palliative Care Policy by the Ministry of Health demonstrates a clear commitment by the government to improving the quality of care for patients with serious illnesses.

These efforts aim to improve, for example, the quality of palliative care, education and training for healthcare providers, public information and awareness, research and surveillance, and also to share best practices in palliative care.

It’s certainly a step in the right direction that hospitals and healthcare providers are starting to realise the importance of growing these services. However, efforts of this kind take time, resources and commitment from many players to bring about change.

According to the World Health Organization palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families who are facing problems associated with life-threatening illness. It prevents and relieves suffering through the early identification, correct assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, whether physical, psychosocial or spiritual.

Palliative care is required for a wide range of diseases. The WHO says the majority of adults in need of palliative care have chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (38.5 per cent), cancer (34 per cent), chronic respiratory diseases (10.3 per cent, Aids (5.7 per cent) and diabetes (4.6 per cent).

Many other conditions may require palliative care, including kidney failure, chronic liver disease, multiple sclerosis, parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, neurological disease, dementia, congenital anomalies and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Providing easier access to hospice and palliative care services is becoming increasingly important for health systems. The demand for high quality care is likely to increase with the aging population, the growing number of patients with life limiting chronic conditions and complex care needs and advances in healthcare. In many cases, increased access can be achieved via home-based services and/or telemedicine.

Policies focused on enhancing the palliative care workforce, investing in the field's science base, and increasing the availability of services in Kenya hospitals and nursing homes are needed to ensure equitable access to optimal care for seriously ill patients and those with multiple chronic conditions.

It’s also vital that the public becomes more informed about palliative care. Palliative care can be beneficial for many different people; not just those that are terminally ill. But it only works if the hospitals and health care providers make more of these services available outside clinic walls.

Providing outreach to their communities about the benefits would go a long way as well. Hopefully this trend will continue and grow in the coming years.

Communications officer at the Pharmacy and Poisons Board