During the first three months of this year, 24 Zambian health professionals attended a three week long ‘Train the Trainers’ course on children’s palliative care which culminated in a formal certificate ceremony held on 24 March at Our Lady’s Hospice in Kalingalinga, Lusaka. The professionals who completed the course included social workers, counsellors, nurses and clinical officers.
The ceremony marked a significant step forward in the push to develop children’s palliative care programmes in Zambia by the alliance of three organisations within Zambia, these being Tiny Tim and Friends (TTF), the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) and Our Lady’s Hospice (OLH). These are the same organisations that were instrumental in the opening of Maluba House, the only children’s palliative care in-patient unit in Zambia. The opening of Maluba House was made possible through funding from the recently closed Diana, Princess Wales Memorial Fund, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, True Colours Trust, along with generous donations from TTF supporters around the world.
Dr Mannasseh Phiri, a well known and highly respected Zambian AIDS Activist, was the guest of honour at the ceremony and addressed the new trainers on the importance of the task that lay before them to ensure that the life limited children of Zambia do not die in unnecessary pain. He said that the cries of pain of many of his patients in the early days of the AIDS epidemic still haunted him and was pleased that more people understood the importance of pain control to improve a child’s quality of life. Dr Tim Meade from TTF also gave a short speech in which he congratulated and reassured the new trainers that the curriculum they would be using had been approved by the Zambian Ministry of Health. In her addresss, Dr Susan Strasser from EGPAF likened the road ahead for the trainers to a long and sometimes difficult road race with many descents and ascents along the way but encouraged them not to loose focus on the end point – a time when every life limited child in Zambian could access good palliative care treatment. Busi Nkosi, the advocacy lead for the International Children’s Palliative Care Network (ICPCN) encouraged the trainers to make use of every opportunity to advocate for the inclusion of children’s palliative care in the training of health professionals.
Most of those attending the course had limited knowledge or experience in children’s palliative care before the training and admitted to having a very changed view of the field post training. The trainees also expressed a higher degree of confidence in their ability to communicate with and manage young patients with life limiting and life threatening illnesses. At the end of the second week of training a nurse said, “The training was very informative. The facilitators and training materials excellent. I feel more confident now than ever to talk to others about children’s palliative care and to practise it.”
The course was presented by facilitators from the ICPCN and was based on the Short Course in Paediatric Palliative Care offered in Uganda, South Africa and Tanzania. It was held over a three week period starting with a week of theory, practical assignments and the review of case studies. The 6 week break before the third and final week allowed time for the participants to complete assignments and put their new learning into practice. They were also encouraged to identify gaps in their training which could be addressed in the third week.
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