Duchess of Cambridge visit to Hospis Malaysia: raising the global profile of hospice and palliative care

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In a heartening and encouraging speech, she highlighted that “with effective palliative care, lives can be transformed” and praised the “wonderful work of Hospis Malaysia’s superb staff”.

This visit by the Duchess of Cambridge has been excitedly received by those working in and affected by hospice and palliative care worldwide. The movement has had little global attention and there is anticipation and enthusiasm for the prospect of the Duchess continuing to shine a much needed light on this issue.

42% of countries worldwide have no identified hospice and palliative care service at all, according to the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance report: Mapping levels of palliative care development, a global update. In a press release, the International Children’s Hospice and Palliative Care Network (ICPCN) estimated that over 50% of countries have no identified services for children. Despite the great progress that has been made in addressing the unmet need in recent years, and the excellent example of services such as Hospis Malaysia, there is a long way to go to ensure that all those who need hospice and palliative care can access it.

As patron of East Anglia Children’s Hospice (EACH) in the United Kingdom, the Duchess has demonstrated a particular understanding of the needs and benefits of children’s hospice and palliative care. She noted in her speech “I have learnt that delivering the best palliative care to children is vital” and she expressed excitement at the launch of the very first paediatric programme in Malaysia.

This focus is very welcome. Joan Marston, chief executive officer of the ICPCN, said: “We estimate that worldwide more than 20 million children and their families need palliative care every year and the need is greatest in the developing world. Our very real hope and expectation is that this exposure will indeed send a message out to health professionals and politicians across the world.”

David Praill, co-chair of the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance and chief executive officer of Help the Hospices in the United Kingdom added: “We must champion and support the great work of Hospis Malaysia and services in other countries where palliative care is still in its infancy, so they are able to bring dignity and quality of life to more people. We hope that the Duchess’s speech will open the world’s eyes to this desperate need for change and to the huge barriers that remain before our shared vision of hospice and palliative care for all is realised”.

The international impact of the Duchess’ visit has already been seen, with extensive press and media coverage and a Twitter storm reaching new audiences. The Malaysian Ministry of Health have used the visit to launch and promote a National Paediatric Palliative Care Programme with plans for the development of national guidelines. Hospis Malaysia are in discussion with EACH and the ICPCN around a peadeatric palliative care workshop to be held later this year. They are keen to maximise the profile and momentum of the Duchess’ visit not just in Malaysia but across the Asia Pacific region, and indeed the world.

The visit was also instrumental in bringing about the new partnership between East Anglia Children’s Hospice and Hospis Malaysia which will undoubtedly lead to fruitful collaboration and benefits for those working with and being cared for by both centres. The attention on this visit has the potential to increase the morale and commitment of hospice and palliative care workers across the globe, many who are often working in isolation with little or no support.

The Duchess’ visit had a great impact on the people being cared for in Hospice Malaysia. The impact of this visit highlights the importance of palliative care positively addressing socio- and psycho-social needs of a patient, rather than just physical symptoms in isolation. It also encompasses care of the family.

As Ednin Hamzah, CEO of Hospis Malaysia suggested “the Duchess could become the champion for the hospice movement worldwide if she wants to take on that mantle.” Many leaders in the world of hospice and palliatuve care are excited by the Duchess’ interest and  are keen to work together to support her should she be willing to take on the role as a champion for the movement worldwide. The Duchess’ involvement could have a huge impact on transforming the lives of millions of people living with life-limiting illness.

Jenny Handley, public relations consultant to the Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa, believes that the public are often reluctant to discuss death and dying, especially if they have never experienced the positive impact of hospice and palliative care. “When a credible, high profile personality, who makes people sit up and take notice, takes an interest in hospice and palliative care, this is a valuable step in expanding public awareness of the services offered. International sporting icons such as football stars Lucas Radebe (former captain of Leeds United and the South African national team, Bafana Bafana) and South African cricketer Jacques Kallis, who have personally experienced palliative care during the loss of their immediate family members, have made an enormous impact on the awareness in South Africa. Not only do they signify quality of life by being sporting icons, but they are authentic in their support because they have had hospice walk the road of caring for a loved one suffering from a life-threatening illness, and then benefitted from bereavement care. They have proved themselves as true champions in the eyes of the public, as well as those working in palliative care.”

Read more about the specific significance on the Duchess’ visit for children’s hospice and palliative care in ehospice international children’s edition.

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