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Ministry of Health acknowledges the need for palliative care

Author: Aquinas Nyakundi
14 August 2014
  • Dr Izaq Odongo addressing health care workers during the dissemination exercise

The Ministry of Health has acknowledged the need for palliative care in Kenya with the increasing incidence of Non Communicable Diseases.

Palliative care is a very important aspect in management of cancer and other chronic illnesses.

This was the message from the Ministry of Health to health care stakeholders during a recent dissemination of cancer and palliative care guidelines exercise in Nakuru County, a meeting that brought together 47 representatives from six government and four mission hospitals.

Speaking during the exercise, the Ministry of Health Head of Oncology Dr Izaq Odongo said that 80% of cancer cases are diagnosed late thus requiring the management aspect of health care provided under palliative care services.

Dr Odongo said that the lifelong illnesses impact negatively on the social and economic life of patients.

“Patients spend a lot of money trying to seek for curative interventions ending up drained financially,” said Dr Odongo.

He said that Kenya, being one of the countries where Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are on the rise, is shifting its emphasis towards these illnesses.

“Most people have previously thought that hospice care is for the dying, a belief that is not true as there is a lot that can be done under palliative care for one to lead a dignified life from the point of diagnosis,” said Dr Odongo.

The Head of Oncology informed the health care providers from the wider Rift Valley region that the collaboration of Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA) and the Ministry of Health has seen integration of palliative care into the health care system.

“Currently, all national referral and Level 5 Hospitals have integrated palliative care besides the 17 free standing hospices and seven Faith Based Organisations offering end of life care. 30 additional Level 4 Hospitals are in the process of integrating,” he said.

He stressed the need for partnerships to strengthen infrastructure and equipment to help in prevention, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care services for NCDs.

Dr Odongo added that the ministry’s interventions include decentralizing 150 Cryotherapy machines to County and Regional Hospitals as well as conducting outreach cancer treatment clinics where the few oncologists in the country offer their services out on the capital city, Nairobi.

“Dissemination is a good way of enabling users of policy documents developed by the government and its partners to understand, start using and spread word about them in their respective fields,” said the Head of Oncology.

He urged those present to convince the management in their respective hospitals to see the need for palliative care adding that once the management realizes this need, they will push for its establishment.

Speaking at the same event, KEHPCA Executive Director Dr Zipporah Ali said that palliative care helps patients die in dignity.

“When we label patients as being on ‘their way out’ we tend to give them less time and support. This should not be so.  Palliative care seeks to support these patients holistically, meaning that these patients need more of our time and support to enable them to live comfortably for as long as they are alive,” said Dr Ali.

She said that families are as well important and they need to be supported before and after a patient’s death.

Dr Ali said that hospice is not a physical place, rather a concept of health care delivery to those dealing with life limiting illnesses.

“The government has purchased 30 kilograms of morphine and has promised to supply more with plans underway to set up a central morphine reconstitution center in the country,” she said.

Dr Ali said that political support is crucial in establishment of palliative care as well as building relationships with donor organisations to support this course.

She urged all health care givers not to forget pediatric palliative care as current figures indicate that only 1% of palliative care patients are children.

The exercise saw dissemination of National Guidelines for Cancer Management in Kenya, National Palliative Care Guidelines, Legal Aspects in Palliative Care Handbook, National Palliative Care Training Curriculum Trainees and Trainers Manuals as well as the National Palliative Care Training Curriculum for HIV/AIDS, Cancer and other life threatening illnesses..

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