The palliative care community mourns the recent passing of Dr Sarah Fakoodreen, a medical doctor, esteemed colleague and champion of palliative care in South Africa.
Dr Fakoodreen, as she was fondly known, passed away suddenly on 14 March 2021 at the age of 72. Says colleague and friend, Dr Mitchell Scott: “Sarah has been a palliative medicine pioneer in providing palliative care to hospice patients and families and advocating for palliative care services with public and private health care sectors-the government and hospitals. Dr Sarah, in championing her advocacy for palliation, enjoyed imparting her knowledge and experience to others.”
Palliative care and hospice treatment, which comprises pain management, holistic palliative care, family and patient support as well as end of life care, plays a pivotal role in our country. Even before the appearance of Covid-19, South Africa had for many decades experienced a dramatic increase in the number of people requiring care and support due rising illnesses such as HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases such as cancer.
Dr Fakoodreen has made outstanding contributions to the development of palliative care over the years, both locally and internationally.
At the time of her passing, Dr Fakoodreen was employed as the medical director, head of education and deputy CEO of Highway Hospice. She also served as chairperson of the Hospice Association of KwaZulu-Natal (HAKZN). Dr Fakoodreen was also an active board member of the Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA) for many years, Dr Fakoodreen was relentless in her quest to bring a strong understanding of hospice services and quality palliative care to benefit hospices across South Africa.
Born into a family of doctors, Dr Fakoodreen often stated that medicine was an obvious career choice for her. She graduated at The Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, after which she also qualified with a diploma in obstetrics and a certificate in family planning. She started her South African career in 1979 as a GP, obstetrician and an assistant for gynaecology. She joined Highway Hospice in 1997 and qualified with a diploma in palliative medicine from the University of Cardiff (Wales) followed by an MPhil in palliative medicine from the University of Cape Town (UCT). Throughout her career, she monitored developments relating to palliative medicine and found importance in keeping abreast with qualifications ensuring she was able to provide the best possible care for her patients. She pioneered the teaching of palliative medicine in the University of KwaZulu-Natal and was the lead in developing the palliative care programme in prisons, which was piloted in KZN. Her expertise was highly regarded in that she authored sections of the HPCA treatment guidelines and was the external examiner for the postgraduate diploma in palliative medicine (UCT) exams from 2004 to 2010 and in 2015. Fakoodreen engaged in palliative care research and developed strong relationships with the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas, USA. Her organisational and business skills were exemplary as evidenced by her being awarded the honour of KwaZulu-Natal Regional Businesswoman of the Year in 2014.
Says Ewa Skowronska, the CEO of the Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA): “Today we mourn the passing of a visionary in South African palliative care. Dr Sarah can best be described as ‘the life that touched thousands of lives’ through her work. HPCA will honour her legacy by continuing our dedication to bringing quality palliative care to all South Africans.”
HPCA’s mission is to promote quality in life, dignity in death and support in bereavement for all living with a life-threatening illness – which includes Covid-19. This entails providing medical care, psychosocial care and spiritual support, as well as end-of-life support. Each hospice has a multidisciplinary healthcare team that includes a medical doctor, professional nurse, social worker and home-based carers. All hospice staff are trained in palliative care which aims to ensure a good quality of life for patients who have been diagnosed with life – limiting illnesses and to prevent and relieve unnecessary suffering. Care also extends to families, especially after their loved ones have died and as they process their grief.
Hospices provide holistic care to people affected by life-threatening diseases, regardless of whether they can afford to pay for this or not. To date only 18% of patients who need palliative care are able to access these services.
About the HPCA
The Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA) is a registered NPO in South Africa. Founded in 1987, the HPCA is a member organisation for South African hospices. As a national charity, the association champions and supports more than 108 member organisations that provide hospice services to more than 120,000 people per year.
HPCA’s 103 member hospices across South Africa care for patients with a variety of life-threatening diseases, predominantly in the comfort of their own homes.
There are nine regional hospice associations that are members of the Hospice Palliative Care Association, representing each province in the country. These are located in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Free State, Northern Cape and the North-West province. The Association of Northern Hospices represents hospices in Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.