200,000 patients can’t get pain relief

Wednesday August 28 2013

By Agatha Ayebazibwe


Access to palliative care remains low in Uganda, even though the number of people with terminal ailments continues to grow. There are more than 200,000 patients who need this care but cannot get it, figures from the Palliative Care Association of Uganda (PCAU) indicate.

Many suffer from life-threatening illnesses, which need to be managed through palliative therapy.
Dr Zena Bernacca, the chief executive director of Hospice Uganda, one of the organisations that offer home-based palliative care in the country, said only 10 per cent of the patients, who are in dire need of the treatment, access it.

Dr Bernacca also added that low awareness, coupled with a lack of national guidelines made it difficult to offer the therapy. “We are currently offering this type of care to 20,000 patients at our three sites in Mbarara, Kampala and Hoima districts. This leaves a huge gap that needs to be filled,” she said at a press conference at the Ministry of Health headquarters in Kampala yesterday.

Ms Fatiya Kiyaga, the president of PCAU, said there was urgent need for a policy to guide clinicians and doctors on palliative care services at healthcare delivery levels. She said health workers and women should be trained since they on how to use oral morphine since they are the most care givers at a family level.

Oral morphine is the only World Health Organisation recommended treatment for palliative care.
The State Minister for Health in charge of Primary Healthcare, Ms Sarah Opendi, said women have been recognised as key providers of healthcare support to patients, therefore efforts must be made to empower them as a special group.


The fourth annual palliative care conference is scheduled for tomorrow. “This will be an important landmark that will comprehensively guide the country on implementation of palliative care services at all levels,” Ms Opendi said, adding that all relevant stakeholders would be called to actively participate and contribute to the policy.

In 2004, Uganda was the first country globally to allow specially trained palliative care nurses and clinical officers to prescribe morphine unlike other countries where this responsibility has been left to doctors and surgeons. Hospice Africa Uganda palliative care centre in Kampala recently started manufacturing oral morphine at its head offices in Makindye.