The Wheels are Turning

Success is...

I think one of life’s greatest successes is to be happy in one’s work. But even being happy is not enough, I am so grateful to be passionate about what I do.

This week we had the privilege of attending the Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa’s annual conference in Cape Town, fully sponsored. The theme of the conference was ‘Who Cares?’ and I was so overwhelmed to be surrounded by others as passionate as we are at Umduduzi; others that do care.

Most exciting is the progress that the world and South Africa is actually making. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is taking a firm stand on palliative care provision across the world. The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO. It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board.

The 134th session of the 67th World Health Assembly listened closely on Friday 23rd May as the resolution “Strengthening of Palliative Care as a component of integrated treatment throughout the life course” was addressed.

This resolution was accepted by the Governments attending this Assembly; more than 3000 delegates from every continent. But what does this mean for us in South Africa?

As a WHO member state, our government now has to look at palliative care policies to support the comprehensive strengthening of health systems to integrate evidence-based, cost-effective equitable palliative care services ….

Among other things, they will have to look at funding and resources to provide

  • basic support to families and community volunteers
  • training in palliative care to all those working in health at all levels
  • access to and rational use of pain management medicines

Thank you to all of you who have joined our ‘100 club’, pledging to support our work for the year. We need to change our health care system that abandons the sickest when their conditions are no longer curable.

Palliative care has traditionally been provided exclusively in the NGO sector. At last this will be changing. The conference was well attended by senior members of National and Provincial Departments of Health; their commitment is evident.

The wheels turn slowly, but they do turn.

Living or Dying?

A few weeks ago, SABC 3’s, Special Assignment, aired a documentary called ‘Back from the Brink’. The title was inspired by a child, Clement, who had been on the brink of death when good palliative care saved him. I just knew it was going to be a positive documentary, but when I read the press release my first thought was, oh dear, I hope it is not all about death and end of life care.

Firstly, this would be just depressing and secondly our job encompasses so much more that simply end of life care; this is a common misconception that many of us in the field have been trying very hard to change.

Similarly many folk have this fear of hospice. Surely hospice is a place people go to die? A place for the end; not early in a serious illness. My own mother has a very serious cancer that may well be the cause of her death, but before she started her radiotherapy we referred her to hospice. People have said she is not dying, isn’t it too soon? Absolutely not. Her prognosis is not fantastic, but so much will happen before ‘the end’. She has a painful tumour and other symptoms that need managing to ensure maximum quality of life; she has normal anxieties and fears associated with having radiotherapy and a life threatening illness; she has very practical care needs. Hospice has advised on pain management, sent an experienced nurse once a week to support her and provided us with all sorts of practical logistical advice and ideas.

I was so thrilled when I realised the documentary covered so much of what palliative care actually is – quality of life for those with serious illnesses while they are still alive! It’s not about dying but about living well until that inevitable moment of death and then being allowed to die comfortably with dignity.

If you would like to watch the documentary please go to: