Open Society Foundations discuss future of palliative care in Africa

Categories: Leadership.

The aim of the seminar was to explore collaborative opportunities for the future of palliative care in these regions.

Representatives of the International Children’s Palliative Care Network, the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care, the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance, the African Palliative Care Association and Treat the Pain joined the discussion.

The seminar also provided the chance to celebrate the work of Mary Callaway and Kathy Foley who will be retiring at the end of 2014.

Mary and Kathy began work with George Soros, philanthropist and founder of OSF, in 1994 on the Project on Death in America (PDIA), a project aimed at: “transforming the culture of death and care of the dying” in the US. The project gave $45 million in grants over nine years to support projects across a broad range of disciplines “with the twin aims of reducing the harms inflicted by the medical system on dying people and the harms caused by public attitudes about death itself” (Clarke, 2014).

Following the end of PDIA, Kathy and Mary went on to lead the International Palliative Care Initiative (IPCI) at OSF in New York, “support(ing) efforts to make palliative care a sustainable, essential part of public health systems worldwide” (OSF).

At the formal closing dinner, OSF coordinators queued up to personally thank Mary and Kathy for the impact that their technical assistance, and their selves as individuals, had made on the work and personal lives of those they had met. In the words of one of the speakers, the experience had been “remarkable” in many different ways.

The meeting also served as an induction and welcome to Duncan Wilson, the organisation’s incoming Project Director for Global Palliative Care Advocacy. Duncan said that he was “inspired” by what each of the delegates had accomplished with the support of OSF, and Mary and Kathy in particular. He said that this had been communicated: “not just in terms of listing a lot of accomplishments… but clear evidence of impact as well.”  

Addressing the group on the final day of the conference, Duncan said that one of the things that had made him feel at home – as a human rights expert in the group – was: “that so many of (the speakers) started with the perspective of the human dignity of those who (they are) working for. Not just the patients… but the health workers, the family members, the formal and informal carers who are all directly or indirectly impacted by the provision or absence of palliative care.”

Speakers presented on their work in the areas of: education, policy, medicine availability and public engagement in palliative care in their countries. Mary and Kathy congratulated them on their achievements, but also commended each speaker for their honesty in not shying away from discussing the challenges that they still face.

The presentation sessions were followed by group discussions, where challenges were dissected by the group and possible solutions discussed.

Stephen Connor, senior research fellow to the WHPCA, spoke about the activities of the organisation and the importance of World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, a unified day of action to celebrate and support hospice and palliative care around the world. 

Nearly all of those attending the meeting had organised World Hospice and Palliative Care Day Activities, ranging from sponsored marathon participation, to appearances on national television. 

Stephen encouraged the delegates to contact the editor of ehospice international edition for advice on how to publicise their work. 

Teachers and leaders in international palliative care discussed educational opportunities, particularly the initiatives available for developing leaders in the field, such as the End of Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC), the Leadership Development Initiative and the Pain Policy Studies Group.

Meg O’Brein, Director of Treat the Pain, an initiative of the American Cancer Society, shared her group’s experience in creating ‘Pain-free hospitals’ in many countries throughout Africa, as well as in India. Meg noted that, although Treat the Pain was not planning to expand to other countries, all the materials necessary to replicate the campaign would soon be available on the Treat the Pain website.

Diederik Lohman, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, spoke about the WHO resolution:Strengthening palliative care as a component of integrated treatment throughout the life course. He gave advice on how people working on palliative care in their countries could use advocacy to engage with their Ministry of Health representatives about the resolution.

Joan Marston, CEO of the International Children’s Palliative Care Network, gave her impressions of the meeting, saying: “Listening to the presentations on so many successful programmes from these creative and compassionate national and international palliative care champions, I am awed by the wealth of expertise we have in the world and how fortunate we are to have their successes to build on.

Yet we are still only scratching the surface of the need and are challenged to identify ways to bring together and scale up the models presented here to reach those adults and children who need palliative care across the globe.”