There are more than 20 000 children Sri Lanka with serious or life-threatening conditions, who could benefit from palliative care each year. However, there are very few palliative care programs designed to meet the needs of these children and their families.
In partnership with Sri Lanka College of Paediatricians, Sri Lanka Medical Association, Sri Lanka College of Oncologists, Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children in Colombo, and the National Cancer Institute Maharagama (Apeksha Hospital), Two Worlds Cancer Collaboration (Canada) and the Hyderabad Centre for Palliative Care (India) recently launched an online learning program for doctors.
During the course opening ceremony, participants and faculty were welcomed by Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, identifying the urgent need to develop specialized children’s palliative care services to support children and families. Dr. Kosala Karunaratne, president of the Sri Lankan College of Pediatricians also spoke, highlighting the importance of palliative care for children with a wide variety of conditions, not just cancer. Dr Rose Tkacova, executive director of Two Worlds Cancer Collaboration and Dr. Sanjeeva Gunasekera, secretary of the Sri Lanka College of Oncologists also spoke at the event.
During the first teaching session, Dr. Megan Doherty introduced the course and the expectations for participants in an ECHO program. This was followed by a didactic lecture about what is palliative and which types of medical conditions need palliative care by Dr. Sabitha Binu, a pediatric palliative care consultant from Chennai, India.
This innovative Pediatric Palliative Care training program uses the Project ECHO model, with didactic lectures from regional and international experts, combined with clinical case presentations and interactive small group discussions. The goal is to train health professionals to address the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of children with life-limiting illnesses and their families.
The course includes a diverse and experienced group of faculty from Sri Lanka, India, Kuwait, and Canada, who have come together to support connections among healthcare professionals and to provide mentoring and support during and beyond the course. The course will consist of eight weekly online sessions, with video lectures which participants need to watch in between the sessions to prepare.
Key course topics include:
- Applying principles of palliative care for children with serious illness; identifying triggers for pediatric palliative care referral
- Communication challenges: Discussing prognosis, end-of-life planning, and breaking bad news
- Opioids and pain management in children
- Managing intractable symptoms, including dyspnea, delirium, spasticity, dystonia, and secretions
- Management of Palliative Care Emergencies
- Caring for children and families in the last days and weeks of life
- Palliative care nursing
- Play Therapy in Pediatric Palliative Care.
- Grief and bereavement; understanding how children grieve
This course is endorsed by the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (UK) and participants who successfully complete the course will receive an official certificate. This initiative is an important step towards building a health system which can support the needs of all children with serious illnesses in Sri Lanka.