Currently, 8.2 million people die from cancer worldwide every year, out of which, 4 million people die aged between 30 to 69 years (World Cancer Day).
A key message for this year’s World Cancer Day is the importance of access to quality cancer care, including palliative care. Many people who have cancer will die from it, and the rights and needs of these people and their families must be remembered and included in each country’s National Cancer Control Plan.
Pain is one of the most prevalent problems faced by people with cancer. However, over 75% of the world’s population does not have access to strong opioid pain medications such as morphine, which is essential for the management of cancer pain.
In Kenya, as in many countries around the world, the need for palliative care and pain relief is great. The Ministry of Health has partnered with Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA) to integrate palliative care in public hospitals, thus bringing palliative care services and pain relief closer to those in need. Eventually, these services will be available at the community level as well.
Dr Ziporah Ali, Executive Director of KEHPCA, said: “People with cancer deserve to live pain free and well cared for. This is their right. We must honour it. We can, I can.”
All those with cancer should have access to hospice and palliative care from the point of diagnosis until the end of their life, and their families and carers should be able to access bereavement care. This should be available as part of Universal Health Coverage, so that people can access cancer care while being protected from financial hardship.
Each year more than 6.5 million adults and 68,000 children with cancer need palliative care at the end of life (WHO & WHPCA, 2014). Millions more people with cancer will need palliative care throughout their life, not just at the end.
People with cancer can benefit from palliative care from the time of their diagnosis. However, in many parts of the world, people present late to healthcare services, which means that by the time their cancer is diagnosed, palliative care is the only approach that may be of benefit to them.
A lack of education in and awareness of palliative care among healthcare professionals, as well as a focus only on cure, means that people with advanced cancer are often sent home to die without proper care or pain control, as they are told that there is ‘nothing more the healthcare system can do’.
Palliative care must be integrated into all healthcare systems and National Cancer Control Plans, so that doctors are aware that there is an option for people whose cancer is beyond cure, and so that people in need of hospice and palliative care can be referred to these services.
Dr Stephen Connor, Executive Director of the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance, said: “palliative care is an essential, not an optional part of the continuum of care for cancer patients and their families. No person with advanced cancer should live without the essential support and care that palliative care provides.”