Meet the young women providing community palliative care in Bangladesh – Shoma Akter

Shoma Akter provides compassionate palliative care to her neighbours in Korail Slum, Bangladesh. She is a Palliative Care Assistant with the Compassionate Korail project.

Shoma trained for six months in palliative care at the centre for palliative care (CPC), Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).

She says: “Before this training, I always had a fear of hospitals and patients with advanced diseases. After my training my fear disappeared. Today I can sit beside a seriously ill patient and their family. I can talk to them about their suffering and extend palliative care to them.”

Building strong relationships

For Shoma, palliative care is about building strong relationships with people with life limiting illness and their families. She says: “Every day I go to an elderly patient’s house to take care of them, and I start by asking: “How are you today?”

“This question gives them an opportunity to talk about themselves, especially about their psycho-social problems. I listen carefully and try to counsel them using a holistic approach. This way gradually a bond is created between me and the patient.”

Shoma is an important presence in the lives of her patients, but the appreciation goes both ways. She says: “I feel satisfied when I see that they really appreciate my work. Sometimes they are surprised that there is someone who has time to listen to their problems.

“They show their gratitude by blessing me and look forward to my next visit. They wait anxiously! I feel a sense of gratitude when I can offer some help to them. I think I am blessed to be able to give such a support to the people with palliative care needs in the community.”

Calling for support from the government

Although the project has received great support from the community, Shoma is worried about sustainability. She says: “Community leaders support our Compassionate Korail approach, but I feel insecure about the future support or care when the international funds stop.”

For Shoma, her role as Palliative Care Assistant has given her a new identity in the community. She says: “Before, people knew me by my family name, but now they recognise me from my service which is a PCA of Compassionate Korail.”

While committed to practising compassionate palliative care within her own community, Shoma recognises the role of the government in supporting this work throughout Bangladesh.

She says: “Currently there are few community based centres of palliative care in Bangladesh, but these are not enough to provide palliative care to the vast population in the country.

“I think we need to build awareness through advocacy among community leaders, and involve electronic and print media to make our service visible. That way it will catch the attention of the government and perhaps one day we will have a compassionate society through the support of our government.”