In the next of our series of spotlighting nurses contributions to palliative care, we introduce you to Vicky Opia in Uganda. You can read more stories in this report “Palliative Care – Celebrating Nurses Contributions”.
Vicky is a specialist palliative care nurse working in a remote corner of Northern Uganda – Adjumani, where access to health care can be a challen
ge for both local people and for refugees feeling conflict in Southern Sudan. However, Vicky says “the concept of transforming health care is dear to my heart”. Vicky’s own journey has taken her through training as a nurse, palliative care specialist and undertaking a Fellowship in Leadership. These skills alongside her supportive family, amazing colleagues and rich partnerships have led her to a place where she thinks that she can really make a difference, although there is still so much more that needs to be done.
Palliative care is an essential component of healthcare provision in humanitarian settings and a priority for the Uganda Ministry of Health but li
ttle is known about needs and interventions that could help to integrate such care into health systems. Uganda hosts the largest refugee population in Africa, with Adjumani District home to 250,000 refugees, mostly from South Sudan, spread over 18 settlements. Chronic disease is a huge burden to add to complex trauma, mental health challenges, loss, poverty and limited choices yet most of the focus in terms of health care remains on the acute phase and what are termed life-saving interventions.
Vicky is the focal point for palliative care in Adjumani District, works in the District Hospital and has also founded Peace Hospice, a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) to help extend the work of chronic disease and palliative care right into people’s homes, including into the refugee settlements. Vicky and her team have partnered with many organisations including the Palliative care Education and Research Consortium, Cairdeas International Palliative Care Trust, Makerere University, ICPCN, and the University of Edinburgh and she has been able to represent the work in district, regional, national and international fora. This work has included a detailed situational analysis, training interventions for heath care workers, village health teams and family caregivers and a household needs assessment. Vicky notes that they can see a significant impact through the work that they have been doing. They now need to work to extend and scale up these crucial steps towards integrating palliative care and achieving Universal Health Coverage for those living in humanitarian and host settings.
Throughout her life Vicky has tried to look at the positives in any situation and has been determined to both develop as a person, but also to make a difference to others. She sees her role as a nurse alongside the provision of palliative care as one way of making a difference to the lives of the people where she lives. She has learnt many things throughout her career as a nurse, including the need to be adaptable and to step up when needed. Most recently she has been the lead person for the COVID-19 outbreak in Adjumani, leading a team to respond to the pandemic. When asked, Vicky says that she is now not only a palliative care specialist, but an advocate, researcher, presenter, trainer, mentor, a coach, a multiskilled person which makes me feel ‘I am an international figure’ but I can also be a ‘a voice for the voiceless’ and can make a difference – what an amazing gift.