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Palliative care improving in Uganda

When people get cancer, most endure agonizing pain and other distressing psychological symptoms.

In Uganda, many cancers go undetected until late when curative treatment may not be available. More often than not, the solution for such patients is palliative care.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines palliative care as an approach that improves the quality of a patient facing life-threatening illnesses through early identification and treatment of physical, psychosocial and spiritual pain. It’s usually availed to cancer and HIV/Aids patients.

In recent years, Uganda has made progress in awareness, palliative care policy formulation and human resource development, according to a new report, integrating palliative Care by the African Palliative Care Association (APCA).

“There is good progress in palliative care policy formulation on the continent. The final draft of a national palliative care policy has been developed and is undergoing the approval processes of the ministry of Health before presentation to the cabinet and parliament for final ratification,” said Dr Emmanuel Luyirika, the executive director of APCA.

This national policy will ensure that palliative care is entrenched into the Ugandan healthcare system. The report also notes that 147 professionals, including; 98 health workers and 49 district-based legal practitioners and paralegals in Uganda were trained in palliative care between 2013 and 2014.

With the increasing HIV infection rates (130,000 new infections annually) and cancer in Uganda, the need for palliative care is increasingly becoming inevitable. Based on UNAIDS estimates, there were 1.5 million Ugandans living with HIV and 140,000 new infections in 2012.

The factors slowing down palliative care service provision in Uganda include inadequately trained health professionals, lack of clear understanding and targets for palliative care, inadequate awareness, support and training institutions.

“As we enter the new APCA financial year, efforts must be made to ensure that palliative care reaches out to the most vulnerable, bearing in mind the HIV/Aids burden, poor infrastructure for cancer care, rudimentary services available for palliative care for older persons, and the plight of key populations that are at risk of marginalization,” Luyirika urged.

Despite the absence of a stand-alone palliative care policy, palliative care is recognized as an essential clinical service with strategies for expansion in the Health Sector Strategic Investment Plan (HSSIP).


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