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Community and collaboration as the 12th Asia Pacific Hospice Conference opens in Singapore

Author: Kate Jackson, WHPCA
27 July 2017

The 12th Asia Pacific Hospice Conference opened today in Singapore, exploring themes of collaboration, shared learning, advocacy, community engagement and many more.

28 years after the first APHC in 1989, conference organisers, the Asia Pacific Hospice Palliative Care Network (APHN) and Singapore Hospice Council welcomed over 1600 delegates, faculty and VIPs from more than 30 countries to Singapore’s Suntec Convention Centre.

Guest of Honour, Singapore Minister of Health, Mr Gan Kim Yong, and Senior Minister of State, Dr Amy Khor, entered the plenary hall along with conference co-chairs, Associate Profession Cynthia Goh and Dr R. Akhileswaran, in a spectacular procession of traditional drummers.

Themed: ‘Greater than the Sum of its Parts’, the conference brings together experts and practitioners from the region and around the world to share their knowledge and experience with the aim of improving hospice and palliative care within the Asia Pacific region.

According to Professor Cynthia Goh: “(The conference theme) reflects our aspiration to join together, and in our sharing, find that we are stronger and more greatly enriched than if we were working as individuals in isolation. This was the original intention for the formation of the APHN, as a network to link individuals and organisations working in this field.”

Professor Goh extended a warm welcome to the audience of the opening ceremony plenary session, speaking about the changes that have taken place in hospice and palliative care in the region since the 1st APHC in Singapore in 1989.

“Much has changed in hospice and palliative care and in our communities” said Prof Goh, noting that even as some countries moved towards standardisation of services, there were still many countries with little to no palliative care coverage or access to morphine for pain management.

Prof Goh highlighted that, although the World Health Assembly called – through its 2014 resolution – for all member states to integrate palliative care into national health systems, this was still not the case in many countries in the Asia Pacific Region.  

She reminded delegates that: “this conference plays an important role in sharing ideas, enhancing knowledge and deepening friendships,” and encouraged those listening to make the most of the event.

Singapore Minister of Health, Mr Gan Kim Yong added his voice of welcome to the conference. He saluted the work of the founder of the modern hospice movement, Dame Cicely Saunders, as well as that of the pioneers of hospice and palliative care in Singapore.

The Minister noted that over the past three decades, hospice and palliative care has become an integral part of Singapore’s healthcare system.

He predicted that palliative care will increase in importance in the near future, not just in the region but around the world. “There is an urgency in developing palliative care,” he said.

Mr Gan introduced the four-pronged approach to enhancing palliative care in Singapore by: 1) improving accessibility, 2) enhancing quality, 3) increasing affordability, and 4) strengthening public awareness.

Dr Angel Lee, shared the introduction and background to a specially commissioned book commemorating 50 years since Dame Cicely Saunders founded St Christopher’s Hospice in London, UK, which was presented as a token of appreciation to the VIPs.

The Minister of Health then officially opened the conference by the ceremonial striking of a gong.

Morning plenary sessions included a talk by Professor Martin Knapp on the Economics of Palliative Care in the Asia Pacific region, asking: 'How do we demonstrate our value to policymakers?’ and concluding: “We need more economists in palliative care!”

Professor Alan Kellehear spoke about public health approaches to end of life care and the importance of building compassionate communities.

He argued that, irrespective of your diagnosis, you will spend 95% of the time away from healthcare providers, and asked: What are we – as a community – doing in that 95% space?

Prof Kellehear noted that dying is a psychosocial, spiritual emotional experience, with a medical dimension, not the other way around. He emphasized the importance of engaging the community as a direct partner in palliative and end of life care, not just targets of care provision.

“End of life care, like health care,” said Prof Kellehear, “is everybody’s responsibility.”

Concurrent sessions on Emerging Models of Care, Visionary Leadership and Strategy, Paediatric Palliative Care and Growing Palliative Care in the Asia Pacific Region provided fodder for fruitful discussion.

Afternoon plenaries by Professor Betty Ferrell and Professor Judith Paice dealt with Palliative Care Interventions to Promote Patient Centred Care, and Holistic Pain Management in the US, while the afternoon breakaway sessions addressed issues of: Pain Management, Building Resilience and Sustaining Teams, and Education in Palliative Care.

We look forward to another exciting day tomorrow!

Follow the conference proceedings on Twitter using the hashtag #APHC2017 and find out more about the event on the conference website

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