Pounding our drum

Categories: Opinion.

World Hospice and Palliative Care Day might be considered the New Year’s Eve of people working tirelessly to relieve the suffering of patients worldwide. 

It’s a day when we take stock of what we’ve done this year, and put together a resolution list for the year to come.

We do this as individuals, and we do this as international institutions — we reconcile our legitimate accomplishments against the backdrop of grim forecasts around Africa’s burgeoning disease burden over the decades ahead. 

Each year, we build upon the slow-growing foundation of evidence to show that palliative care actually works. Moreover, for the developing world, it may just be the closest thing we have to a panacea to address the staggering statistics of deaths from communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Here are a few, released today ahead of World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, that perhaps we can grapple with together:

New estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), show that around 24 million adults require palliative care at the end of life each year. 66% of these are over 60 years old. Despite this growing need, 42% of countries still have no identified hospice and palliative care service, while 80% of people globally lack adequate access to medication for treatment of moderate to severe pain. 

To speculate on what these statistics might mean: 24 million adults probably wish they could sleep at night but cannot due to their experience of prolonged severe pain.

Speculating further – 24 million adults at the end of their lives might be lacking the empathy of a doctor, nurse or social worker to help them realise there is a health system that has their back; to help them feel assured that that their sickness is not due to witchcraft or something evil they have done and therefore deserve to suffer pain at the end of their lives.

In 42% of countries, patients may not receive the care they need entirely because they are too physically weak or economically disadvantaged to travel to a hospital or wait in line at a medical centre for treatments. 

So today, we beat our chests and pound our drums for the international community to stop and listen. We say that the need for pain relief is as tangible as the reality of pain itself.

We say our needs in Africa are unique due to the increased incidence rate of heart disease, strokes, chronic lung diseases, cancers and diabetes — compounded to the disease burden of communicable diseases such as TB, HIV and AIDS.

We also flag the reality that the social, psychological and spiritual needs of patients may be harder to quantify, but they too are sources of pain that medicine alone cannot address. And we vocalise what most people may already know, that statistics are made up of valued human beings, worthy of the support of a social and systematic network that exists to catch them in their most vulnerable moments. 

With this resolve, may World Hospice and Palliative Care Day 2012 be a benchmark of continued momentum worldwide. In Africa, here’s to pounding our drums a little louder until the voices of our patients are affirmed and their needs are fully heeded.


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