As part of the ongoing effort to provide comprehensive cancer care for the many Kenyans who are coping with cancer and other life-threatening diseases, a palliative care program has been established at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) with assistance from Indiana University (IU). MTRH Director, Dr. Haroun Mengech recently charged Dr. Naftali Busakhala and Dr. Matthew Strother to begin a palliative care program based in the Oncology Department. Mr. Peter Kamau, a nurse administrator directs this multidisciplinary team that includes nurses, a medical officer, a clinical officer, a social worker, and a pharmacy technician.
The goal of palliative care is to relieve suffering and improve the quality of life for patients with advanced illnesses and to help their families. Palliative care is based on an interdisciplinary approach that is offered simultaneously with other medical care, including curative therapy when appropriate. Palliative care focuses on the physical, emotional, spiritual and practical needs and goals of patients and their loved ones.
Resource-constrained settings such as Kenya demand palliative care interventions in order to respond to the significant symptom burden caused by cancer, HIV/AIDS and other chronic conditions. Tests and medical interventions are limited in this setting and patients often seek medical attention very late in the course of their disease. For advanced cancer patients, this means that the cancer is too advanced to benefit from surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Worst of all, these patients tend to have pain or other symptoms that cause tremendous suffering.
After attending the 3rd African Palliative Care Association Meeting in Namibia in September, two IU Palliative Care physicians, Dr. Greg Gramelspacher and Dr. Colleen Brown traveled to Eldoret in order to see first-hand the palliative care challenges faced at MTRH and AMPATH. They discovered that morphine, a WHO essential drug, has been unavailable throughout the entire country since July. However, despite the problems with morphine availability and proper use, they found that accurate prognostication and good communication make it possible to deliver effective palliative care even in resource-poor areas.
The IU and MTRH Palliative Care teams are honored to be a part of the AMPATH partnership, and they look forward to expanding this specialized care to patients and families throughout Western Kenya in order to relieve suffering and improve quality of life.