467,000 Ugandans not accessing palliative care, experts reveal

Treatment. A patient undergoes dialysis at Kiruddu Hospital in Kampala. Kidney-related diseases also need palliative care. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Palliative care is a range of services given to improve the quality of life of patients and their families who are facing problems associated with life-threatening illness such as cancer, heart diseases, diabetes and HIV/Aids.

Up to 85 percent of the 550,000 Ugandans with chronic and life-limiting illnesses, who need palliative care, are not accessing the services because of low government prioritisation and biting poverty in families.

This was revealed by health experts yesterday at the 7th International African Palliative Care Conference in Kampala. The conference, which has attracted participants from across the globe, is ongoing until Friday. 

Palliative care is a range of services given to improve the quality of life of patients and their families who are facing problems associated with life-threatening illness such as cancer, heart diseases, diabetes and HIV/Aids. It prevents and relieves suffering through early identification, correct assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, whether physical, psychosocial or spiritual, according to additional information from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr Emmanuel Luyirika, the executive director of African Palliative Care Association, said people in rural communities are the most affected in terms of inaccessibility of palliative care. 

Dr Luyirika said improving access to palliative care requires increased allocation of the National Budget to the health sector. 

“Then within that, they should ensure some of that money is dedicated to palliative care both in rural and urban areas, especially for people who don’t have a means to pay for the service,” he said.

Health budget

The health sector was allocated Shs3.35 trillion in the current financial year, representing 7.5 percent of the National Budget. This is below the government’s international commitment to allocate 15 percent of its budget to health. 

Dr Patrick Kagurusi, the country manager for Amref Health Africa, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), said increasing investment should go hand-in-hand with transparency in implementation to ensure value for money. He said palliative care should be provided as an essential health care package in health facilities for every Ugandan in need. 

Most palliative care services, especially for cancer patients, are currently provided by NGOs and private players. But Dr Luyirika noted that the government has increased access to some palliative care medicines in hospitals. 

Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the World Health Organisation country representative, said the government should train health workers and social care providers on palliative care to improve the quality of life of people under their care. 

Ms Margaret Muhanga, the State Minister for Health in-charge of Primary Health Care, said the government is increasing efforts to ensure Ugandans access palliative care. 

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