In refugee camps, both in Kakuma and Dadaab Refugee Camps (Humanitarian Situations), cancer and other Non Communicable Diseases(NCDs)are now seen as a growing challenge for health providers. The problem is mainly with the healthcare system, which faces challenges including the lack of trained workers in palliative care and the insufficient supply of pain relieving medicines like oral morphine. This leaves the refugees with life threatening diseases without the necessary treatments. The doctors are also left confronted with the moral decision of choosing between using the scarce resources to offer basic care to the whole community at large or save one life.
Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA), which provides quality training for health care professionals on palliative care, partnered with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), aiming to make a difference. The main aim of the partnership is to initialize the integration of palliative care into these camps with the aim of alleviating the pain and suffering of the refugees living with life threatening conditions
Kakuma refugee camp, based in the North-Western region of Kenya, and Dadaab refugee camp, almost 1100 kilometers away from Kakuma, based in the North-Eastern region of Kenya is home to many refugees of from many countries in Eastern and Central Africa. The camps major population of 90% is held by the Somalis. The population of the complexes is about 200,000 and 240,000 refugees respectively.
The location being remote, a flight supported by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was acquired for the team to access the region. Funded fully by True Colors Trust-through their small grants program, two trainings were held in Kakuma and Dadaab. The palliative care training, conducted by the KEHPCA team, was multi-disciplinary targeting: Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists & Pharmaceutical technicians, Nutritionists, Community Health Volunteers and Clinical Officers. The training sessions were completed and aimed at enhancing the participants’ knowledge on proper palliative care thus improving the quality of life of their patients. It was noted that the training was successful but only reached to about half the health care workers as the doctor to patient ratio is rather low. This is mainly because of how high the turnover is. Due to the harsh environment, most healthcare workers hardly make it to two years of employment, mainly due to the distance from their family.
Community leaders and health volunteers play a key role with the patients in visiting them in their homes and linking the patients with healthcare providers. After the training, time was also spent sensitizing them. They were to help identify those in need of palliative care, strengthen referrals from the community to the hospitals and to create awareness within the communities. The team also paid a courtesy visit to the healthcare facilities in the camp.
“We were rather impressed about the services provided considering the insufficient number of healthcare providers,” reported Dr. Kinyanjui from KEHPCA.
It was clear that these regions were in urgent need of palliative care, which aims at improving the quality of life of patients and their families. It should be a crucial part of the patients’ life from the moment of diagnosis.
All in all, positive feedback was received from the participants as one said,
“The training has opened up my mind and realized that to initiate palliative care is not solely on material reasons. It is personal and team commitment, which I am going to ensure, happens.”