Uganda: Activists Call for More Access to Palliative Care Services

Civil society organizations under the Palliative Care Association of Uganda (PCAU) want government to increase its support towards palliative care services in the country. This call was made during the commemoration of the World Palliative Care and Hospice day which is marked annually every second Sunday of October, writes ERNEST JJINGO.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from symptoms and stress of the illness with the aim of improving quality of life for both the patient and the family.

According to Mark Donald Mwesiga, the country director of PCAU, the need for palliative care in Uganda has exponentially increased due to the increased aging population, the increasing number of chronic and non-communicable diseases like cancer, heart failures, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney failure, Parkinson’s among others and the high prevalence of HIV/Aids.

Most palliative care services cater mainly for HIV and cancer patients with a few now taking on other illnesses that cause serious health suffering. Palliative care services in Uganda include pain and symptom control, socio and psychological support, cancer screening, provision of ARVs, HIV-testing among others.

However, due to resource constraints, these services are not able to reach everybody who needs them.

“Right now in Uganda, over 500,000 people need these services because the World Health Organization estimates that at least one per cent of every population requires palliative services but they are still limited in coverage,” Mwesiga said adding that the ministry of health has spelt it out that only 11 per cent of people who need these services can access them and therefore there is need to improve the data and statistics of these services because it is important that they reach everybody who should receive them.

Mwesiga further noted that even though there are health workers who are trained to offer this service, they are not honored and incorporated in the health care work force and the budget allocation for palliative care services is also still limited.

“We are still grappling with the idea of a national palliative care policy and national standard guidelines for palliative care. Much as Uganda is hailed as a model for palliative care services in Africa, we need these services to grow and spread across the board,” he said Dr Charles Olara, the director of Curative Services at the ministry of Health, noted that since the whole health sector is underfunded, they have not been able to get all the resources needed to extend various health services to people including palliative care.

He, however, said that efforts to release more resources towards the provision of palliative care services in the country are already underway because the country cannot achieve universal health care coverage without providing palliative care services.

“The government through the ministry of health has integrated palliative care from national regional hospitals up to health centre IV level across the country. We are also providing funding for provision of medicines needed for palliative care like oral morphine which are being delivered by national medical stores for free across the country,” Olara said.

Olara also noted that the ministry is finalizing the policy for palliative care with the regulatory impact assessment already finished and now waiting to be presented to cabinet. This policy will provide guidance on how palliative care services can be delivered to the people who need them across the country.

He, therefore, encouraged people to do prevention for some of the conditions which bring about the need for palliative care in order to reduce the need for these services although the ministry shall continue to advocate to the government to provide more resources towards palliative care.

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