Chairperson of the Asia Pacific Hospice and Palliative Care Network (APHPCN), Dr Cynthia Goh, will be the keynote speaker. Here, Dr Richard Lim, palliative medicine physician and organising chairperson of the event, writes for ehospice about the meeting.
Ever since we started the field of palliative medicine as a medical specialty in Malaysia, the college of physicians has been constantly updated regarding the progress and development of palliative medicine in Malaysia.
This is a process that has taken quite a number of years and, at present, many senior physicians now have a better understanding of the role of palliative medicine and recognise the needs in clinical practice.
Educating generalist physicians about palliative care
The current president of the college, Dr Letchuman Ramanathan, Head of Internal Medicine for the Ministry of Health, has been very keen on getting other physicians to learn more and understand the importance of providing good palliative care to patients with chronic incurable medical illnesses and to know how to care for patients at the end of life where curative options are deemed futile.
Hence the president approached me and offered us the opportunity to organise the annual scientific meeting in order to increase awareness amongst general physicians and many of the younger doctors who are training in the field of internal medicine.
This is an important opportunity for us in the palliative medicine fraternity to showcase our field and to gain greater interest amongst our medical colleagues.
In the past we have organised the Malaysian Hospice Congress – which is held every 2 years – but this conference is often attended mainly by those involved in hospice care, that is, general physicians often do not take part.
Hence as this is a conference meant for general physicians, we hope that it will widen the scope of our audience and will be a good opportunity for advocacy of palliative care among our medical colleagues.
Progress in palliative care in Malaysia
We are trying hard to move things forward and develop more specialists in the field.
At the same time we are also trying to increase awareness and education amongst generalists so that they too may provide basic palliative care to any of their patients in need.
There are so few palliative care specialists in Malaysia, so it is not possible for us to manage all the care needed, so we hope that generalists will be trained to provide the bulk of care.
We are also developing specialised para-medical staff in the field of palliative care through a local diploma programme run by the Ministry of Health.
We still have a long way to go but I hope each event is a small step in the right direction.
I do hope that this conference will increase awareness amongst medical practitioners who may not normally be involved in palliative care. Hopefully they will become more sensitive to the needs of palliative care that are far from being fulfilled at present.
Sowing the seeds
Perhaps it may help to sow some seeds that may then grow in some individuals who will rise up and move things forward.
For example, I spoke to a neurologist yesterday about the conference and mentioned the talk on palliative care in neurodegenerative disorders and he was very interested to know more.
He then said he realised how his neurology service does not look into providing the needs for Motor Neuron Disease (MND) patients towards the end stage, mainly because there is no system established to provide such care.
I told him that the speaker was a palliative care physician who started with one MND patient and gradually the experience grew and now she runs the main MND palliative care service in the country.
He agreed that we need to start somewhere.
So sowing such seeds I think could lead to hopefully some dynamic individuals who will be able to take things further.
Encouraging the next generation
I also hope that many of the younger doctors who attend will find the field of palliative medicine stimulating and challenging so maybe this will encourage more young doctors training in internal medicine to take up palliative medicine as a specialty.
The conference is going to be officiated by our Minister of Health and it is also a good way to gain a bit more political support for palliative care in Malaysia.
The Minister officiated the launching of the palliative care symbol by Hospis Malaysia last year and as he officiates this function we hope it gives him an idea of how much emphasis is being placed on palliative care these days and how many more people support its role.
The conference will be held from 10 – 12 April 2015 at the T J Danaraj Auditorium, Medical Academies of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
For more details, including how to register, please visit the APHPCN website.