Palliative Care Association of Uganda, together with Spiritual leaders from various religious institutions have today called upon the government and people of Uganda adopt and recognise the need for palliative care in the country’s health services.
Palliative care is a specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness.
During the Annual Get Together and Prayer Breakfast Meeting at Fairway Hotel organised by the Palliative Care Association of Uganda, emphasis was put on caring for those who are severely ill especially in this Covid-19 pandemic period.
Rev Canon Dr Rebecca Margret Nyegenye from the Provost All Saints Cathedral, Kampala said that people should prioritise helping others during the course of their duties especially in the health care department where patients need palliative care the most.
“You are not going to an organisation to find a job; but you are going because you have a heart that cares, loves and reaches out to those that need care. Friends, we want people that can touch the elderly, encourage and care for them. That’s the way we shall be able to live in Uganda; by loving one another. There are people who die not because they are ready to die but because there is no love,” she said.
Rev Canon Diana Nkesiga, Associate Chaplain, St Francis Chapel Makerere, said that when the patient becomes dependent or starts to lose hope, the whole family is affected.
“When a family member is diagnosed with a terminal illness, the whole family is ill. You are not only physically sick, but you have thoughts going on in your mind. There’s the mind, spirit and your body,” she noted.
She stated that the sick need various kinds of support but offering them company is vital and cannot be purchased, the reason it should be availed to those that most need it.
“We all know that financial support is essential to access medication, therapy and intervention. However, there is one thing that it can’t access, and that is the ministry of presence. Nothing can ever replace the ministry of touch, presence, physical support and spiritual support,” Rev Nkesiga noted.
She, however, said that due to covid-19, all this is impossible because movement is limited and people have to care for their loved ones from a far, something that cuts down on the healing that comes with physical presence.
“Every morning, I would send a personal voice note. And you hear the person on the other side is on a ventilator; oxygen and you are really wondering whether you have communicated. Even as we look for resources for medication, we need to remember, even post covid-19, that your presence is more powerful than anything,” she explained.
“I want to thank God that during this time, I have got to several people who are in ICU and when they came out, they appreciated saying ‘your personal voice was the nearest to your being present in the room. Palliative care does something very special, which I wish Ugandans had access to. It deals with pain management. Emotional pain can not be taken away by a pill,” she said.
Having dealt with people who are grieving, people living with HIV/AIDs and those who have lost family members to cancer, Rev Canon Nkesiga has the seasoned experience of palliative care and is proud of its benefits.
“When we hear the word palliative care, many of us are afraid because we think of it as ‘end of life care’. But I want to stay that through the Palliative Care Association through Hospice Africa, my own father lived another 40 years, pain free because of this wonderful service,” she said.
Dr Jackson Amone, commissioner Clinical Services, who represented Dr Ruth Acheng, the Minister of Health said that the number of severe and critically ill covid-19 patients has increased and Mulago as a national hospital and other referral hospitals have their ICUs and high dependence units overwhelmed by patients.
“These always need palliative care before they breathe their last. There are many other patients with life limiting illnesses that also require palliative care and yet only 11% have been able to access it,” he added.
He said that palliative care is for everyone; both adult and children.
“It is therefore a vital part of the covid-19 response by alleviating the suffering of people of all ages by managing the severely and critically ill patients with breathing difficulties, facilitating effective communication and bereavement support across all settings including hospitals, communities and homes,” Dr Amone explained.
He said the government of Uganda acknowledges very well that universal health coverage can only be achieved by ensuring that we have preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative care services.
“There’s no better time to embrace palliative care than this, given the fact that groups that are at risk of developing severe disease and complications from covid-19 include the groups that are enrolled for palliative care or those that might need it at any time.”
“These include the people who are over 65 years old, people with heart conditions, diabetes, all different kinds of cancers; or those on chemotherapy, liver disease, HIV/AIDS, lung diseases and severe acute malnutrition,” he said.
Mr Mark Mwesiga, the country director at the Palliative Care Association of Uganda called upon government to invest in health and also improve palliative care services.