The importance of palliative care in Universal Health Coverage

Categories: Care, Leadership, and Opinion.

Outpacing every need in the medical care field is palliative care. With the rising cases of serious health conditions around us, people have come to recognize the need for proper care for people living with serious illnesses.

It is not enough to just provide medical care, it is about emotional and psychological care for patients and their caregivers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Palliative care is care intended to improve the quality of life for patients and their families facing problems associated with life-threatening illnesses.

Here in Kenya, we’ve seen and acknowledge that this care is limited, and professionals with skills to offer hospice and palliative care are very few and scattered across the counties. In Garissa county for instance, there is only one institution offering hospice and palliative care with only 1 palliative care nurse on call. This professional caters to patients across the entire county and as far as Meru, which is quite a distance from the provincial hospital.

This is a major concern for the Kenya Hospices & Palliative Care Association that has engaged government agencies in the inclusion and acknowledgement of hospice and palliative care in the country. Advocacy through partners and individuals has gone a great way in bringing the government to the table to discuss various ways in which the Universal Health Coverage plan can work towards providing quality healthcare to Kenyans living with serious health conditions and their caregivers,

Worldwide, more than 25.5 million people die every year from serious health suffering that requires palliative care. The number of people who experience serious health-related suffering is much higher, with an additional 35.5 million people requiring some degree of palliative care outside of end-of-life care. Family caregivers and volunteers are a key component of palliative care services as they provide essential support. Governments have a responsibility under Universal Health Coverage to provide resources for care delivery to ensure patients have palliative care services per this year’s theme: ‘my care, my right’. Less than 10% of the overall need for palliative care is being met globally. More than 80% of these cases are in low- and middle-income countries, where access to immediate release oral morphine, an essential and inexpensive medicine to alleviate pain, as well any other type of palliative care, is severely lacking.

Global policies restricting access to opioids mean that millions of people are denied medicines to relieve pain linked to illness or injury. Here in Kenya, hospice and palliative care is a critical element of the overall health of a person, and ultimately, the caregivers. We have huge disease burdens in East Africa, both communicable and non-communicable. The serious health conditions put huge demands on the health care system and on the country’s economy.

In many African countries, there is a lot of stigma associated with serious health conditions and thus, palliative care is not given the priority it deserves, even at government level. Accessing hospice and palliative care services which includes access to pain relief medication, counseling services and medical procedures remains inaccessible, limited or not available to many patients and their families. Where the care is provided, there limited well equipped facilities as well as trained caregivers.

African culture has not warmed up to palliative care in hospices and thus the seriously sick and aged from low income communities suffer at home in negligent conditions. There is also the high cost of medication and care that’s attached to palliative care which is not within reach of the patients’ families and caregivers.

Interventions by organizations such as the Kenya Hospices & Palliative Care Associations have made great strides in the sensitization of the need for hospices and palliative care institutions as well as the training of personnel to deal with serious health conditions.

These discussions and deliberations help palliative care organizations engage with the government to ensure that the social and legal barriers impeding access to palliative care services are removed.

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