Recently, as part of the Patient Power project, supported by the Joffe Charitable Trust, over 45 journalists from across the African continent participated in a focused webinar on ‘Palliative Care during COVID’. It was co-hosted by the African Palliative Care Association (APCA) and the Hospice Palliative Care Association of South African (HPCA). The webinar, which was held on the 6th of October just before World Hospice Palliative Care Day, was enthusiastically received by the participants who requested follow-up training and support.
In his presentation Dr. Emmanuel Luyirika, Executive Director of APCA, highlighted that, “Before Covid-19 the world, and especially Africa, was already burdened with unmet palliative care needs due to communicable and noncommunicable diseases. The emergence of Covid-19 and attending lockdowns and physical distancing measures reduced the opportunities for patients to interact with their providers. In addition, many of those infected and with symptoms added to the palliative care burden. Some of the survivors have also continued to have emerging complications and sequelae.”
Dr. Luyrika urged the media to renew focus on entrenching palliative care as part of Universal Health Coverage and health systems to support patients and their families better and he offered a number of ways in which they could do so, including:
- researching issues related to establishing Universal Health Coverage Schemes in Africa including cancer and palliative care
- scrutinising the National Health Insurance schemes and National Health Service plans for cancer and palliative care inclusion
- reporting on governments who are investing into national health infrastructure that covers infectious diseases, NCDs and cancer including palliative care and a functional two-directional national patient referral system
- highlighting decentralised services and palliative care reaching the people in rural areas
- profiling the lack of palliative care in entire health systems from the home-based care level to the national referral hospitals in several countries
- learning more about functional models happening across the continent to awaken the population and policy makers.
Huyaam Samuels, a 22-year old patient advocate from South Africa, shared that many people associate palliative care with end of life experiences, but her life has taught her otherwise. “I was diagnosed with a rare medical condition in my teens,” she told reporters, “and I suffer chronic pain for which I am on daily medication. After a string of doctors failed to diagnose her condition, she finally received the ongoing palliative care that changed her life and she is now an passionate ambassador for Palliative Care and Treatment for Children (PatchSA).
Media participants welcomed the information that was provided and asked the host to provide additional training opportunities. South African radio journalist Benito Vergotine shared how he gained a fuller appreciation for what palliative care provides only when he attended a local hospice event. He encouraged his colleagues across the continent to visit sites where palliative care is provided to experience first hand the level of care that is provided by health workers at the frontline.
Following the event many participants wrote stories to highlight World Hospice Palliative Care Day, leading with headlines that included, “Covid-19 has put palliative care and those in it under huge strain” and, “In praise of hospices: I cannot tell you how health and mental state have improved.”