Lack of palliative care policy hindering service delivery - experts

Ministry of Health's assistant commissioner for Clinical Services poses for a group photo with officials from Palliative Care Association of Uganda and students in Kampala on October 14, 2023. PHOTO/BUSEIN SAMILU 

Experts have said the absence of a national palliative care policy is continuously hindering proper service delivery to patients suffering from terminal illness like cancer.

Only 11 per cent of the estimated 500,000 Ugandans who need palliative care can access the services, according to latest statistics from the ministry of health.

Speaking at the commemoration of the 2023 World Hospice and Palliative Care Day (WHPCD) at Taibah International School on October 14, the executive director of the Palliative Care Association of Uganda (PCAU) Mark Donald Mwesiga noted that the policy is “very important to guide and give direction to both government and civil societies while offering the services.”

“Right now when you look at the budget of the ministry of health (MOH), there is no component of a budget allocation specifically for palliative care which is crucial because the number of people who need this service increase daily,” he observed.

“In 2018, we proposed to government to allocate at least Shs2.5 billion for only palliative care but it continues to be integrated with other general primary health. Government has provided free oral liquid in over 300 health facilities in at least 107 of the 146 districts and cities and this shows that 40 districts do not have this service at all,” he added.

According to experts, the government must invest deliberately for services to move from health centers to homes but this is not implemented because of lack of an enabling guiding policy.

The commemoration of the WHPCD was held under the theme: Compassionate Communities: Together for Palliative Care.

A Pioneer Palliative Care School Club in Uganda which was formed by a group of 30 high school students with an aim of advocating for palliative care, raising awareness, supporting resource mobilization, and providing practical assistance to improve food and nutrition for patients and families facing health-related suffering, was launched.

Rose Kiwanuka the first palliative care nurse in Uganda said that the service continues to be needed due to the increasing number of people living with lifestyle (non-communicable disease).

In his remarks, Dr Muwanga Moses, the Assistant Commissioner under Clinical Services in charge of Palliative Care and Hospice at the MOH said that the government has scaled up the palliative care services in most health facilities.

“We mostly connect with regional referrals and I want to assure you that palliative care is in all of them we are in 107 health facilities and we shall expand to cover up all including the missing 40,” he said adding that: “We also continue to raise awareness among people because we people are living lifestyles which are resulting in non-communicable diseases like; hypertension, diabetes, cancers, sickle cells among others hence leading to increased need for this service.”