“A seed for the future development of palliative care in Malawi” – interview with EMMS partner, Dr Cornelius Huwa

Categories: Leadership.

What is the vision and mission of Palliative Care Support Trust Malawi?

The Palliative Care Support Trust (PCST) – through its clinics, Tiyanjane and Umodzi – exists to be a centre of excellence in the provision of high-quality palliative care services, and the provision of high-quality palliative care training, as well as advocating for palliative care in Malawi.

How does the organisation work with EMMS?

EMMS is one of the major partners that PCST has. EMMS works on palliative care work in Malawi and India. PCST has partnered with EMMS in the Sunday’s Child Appeal with the goal of providing pain relief to patients in need in Malawi and to provide palliative care training to providers in the country.

EMMS works on project design with us and provides financial support for our work. EMMS also provides technical support in strategy development, financial management, sharing of best practice from other countries and many other areas.

What led you to work in palliative care?

My desire for working in palliative care started and grew when I worked for a Mission Hospital in Malawi called Mulanje Mission hospital. This is the place I came face to face with the great need of palliative care in our country, Malawi.

I started chatting with people who had been in the field of palliative care in Malawi for a number of years. There were, I think, two Malawian medical doctors at that point two years ago who had shown interest in palliative care, although neither one though was actively working in the field.

The need was so obvious in the community. From that initial exposure to palliative care, I began to explore possibilities of developing a career in the area so that I could be part of the solution to the great need that Malawi had.

I started communicating with Dr Jane Bates, a palliative care doctor herself and chair of the board of trustees of PCST, who encouraged me to get into this field and to help amplify the voice of the voiceless.

How has PCST impacted on people’s lives in Malawi?

Before I give a testimony of people who have been impacted by PCST, I can give my own experience. My heart for people in pain has been enlarged and I always saw pain from one angle but today, I see it from many different angles.

I have seen how the management of simple distressing symptoms, including pain, can make a huge difference in people’s lives and touch the whole family.

This always gives me reasons to appreciate the people I work with and those who have worked before me in palliative care. The things that these people do change lives in more ways than one can explain.

One of our patients who has been supported by PCST is Tadala. Many have seen this child in adverts and publicity materials.

What they may not realise is that to put a smile on Tadala’s face took the effort of tireless men and women who made sure that care had to continue despite Tadala having an incurable illness.

Her family has been impacted as they receive ongoing care and counselling at home.

An elderly lady, Edda, continues to receive care at home while community palliative care volunteers trained by PCST have been visiting her and helping her in her home.

Her two grandchildren have since resumed school and continue to excel, because someone has taken their place as carer while they go to school.

These are but a few examples of many lives which have been impacted by PCST work in Malawi.

Why would you encourage people to support the Sunday’s Child Appeal?

The Sunday’s Child Appeal is a great opportunity for giving a gift this Christmas.

As little as £15 will help PCST, Mulanje Mission Hospital and Nkhoma Mission Hospital to provide pain relief to the patients in need.

The UK government is going to match donations pound for pound. This doubles the impact of gifts and means even more people will get the care they need.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing palliative care in Malawi at the moment?

The greatest challenge is low numbers of trained staff who are specifically providing palliative care in the hospitals.

Conversely, what do you see as the biggest opportunities?

The biggest opportunity now is that there is willingness on the ground to scale up the work of palliative care.

It is also of great importance to note that Malawi has passed a palliative care policy in October 2014.

This means that palliative care is recognised by the government and there is a pledge from the government to support the efforts of palliative care providers.

To add to that, the Malawian Ministry of Health has a dedicated palliative care desk officer, Immaculate Kambiya, sitting at the headquarters.

This position has made palliative care easy to advocate for, especially to the decision makers at Ministry of Health level.

Malawi is also blessed with a functional palliative care association headed by Mr Lameck Thambo.

The association has been a great advocacy voice for palliative care and the linking factor to palliative care providers across the country.

Is there anything I haven’t asked about that you would like to add?

The project that PCST, Mulanje Mission and Nkhoma Mission hospitals are implementing in collaboration with EMMS International is a great opportunity and reflects a shared vision to improve palliative care in Malawi.

More than 40,000 people will benefit from the project in its three year period of implementation.

Individuals, families, communities and the whole country Malawi will be touched in one way or another with this work. It is a seed for the future development of palliative care in Malawi.

Find out more about the Sunday’s Child Appeal on ehospice

Read more about the work of EMMS on their website

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