HEALTH: Why Palliative care is key

Naava Aisha and Lilian Nuwabaine

Palliative care improves the quality of life of patients and that of their families who are facing challenges associated with life-threatening illness, whether physical, psychological, social or spiritual.

The World Health Organization defines Palliative Care as an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

Palliative care is a crucial part of integrated, people-centred health services. Relieving one of serious health-related suffering, be it physical, psychological, social, or spiritual, is a global ethical responsibility. Thus, whether the cause of suffering is cardiovascular/heart disease, cancer, major organ failure, drug-resistant tuberculosis, severe burns, end-stage chronic illness, acute trauma, extreme birth prematurity or extreme frailty of old age among others, palliative care may be needed and has to be available at all levels of care.

Every year, an estimated 56.8 million people, including 25.7 million in the last year of life are in need of palliative care yet only 14% of those people currently receive it. One of the main reasons that lead to denial of access to adequate palliative care is unnecessarily restrictive regulations and stock outs of morphine and other essential controlled palliative medicines. The increasing need for palliative care is due to aging of populations and the rising burden of non-communicable diseases and some communicable diseases. Each delivery of palliative care reduces unnecessary hospital admissions and the use of health services, therefore, adequate national policies, programmes, resources, and training on palliative care among health professionals are urgently needed in order to improve access.

We should appreciate and note that the palliative care goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

Palliative Care provides:

  • Relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
  • Affirms life and regards dying as a normal process
  • Intends neither to hasten or postpone death
  • Integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care
  • Offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death
  • Offers a support system to help the family cope during the patient’s illness and in their own bereavement

Conclusively, palliative care uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counseling, if indicated, and enhances quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness. 

The authors are; Ms Aisha Naiva, Nursing officer working at Kawolo General Hospital and 
Ms Lilian Nuwabaine, BScN Nurse & MSN-Midwife & Women’s Health Specialist working with Aga Khan University and is the HIHA Midwife of the year 2021

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