By Wezi Tjaronda
Health and Social Services Minister, Dr Richard Kamwi, has expressed concern over inadequate essential medication to relieve pain and suffering for people with life-limiting diseases.
Kamwi was speaking in Windhoek yesterday at the start of a three-day workshop on advocacy for palliative care in Africa.
Representatives of six African countries, namely Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana are attending the workshop, whose aim is to evaluate the countries’ national polices and laws pertaining to medication and availability with a view to incorporate the measures into national strategies that would ensure the availability of and access to essential pain medication, especially morphine.
Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families as they face life-threatening diseases. The assessment and treatment of pain is important in this respect.
But due to the overly restrictive regulations in Africa, the accessibility to pain medication has remained a major challenge to the provision of quality palliative care services, said Kamwi.
“While there is growing realisation among African governments of the potentially important role that hospice and palliative care can play across the continent, especially in addressing the Aids epidemic, there remains insufficient support for palliative care,” he said.
Kamwi said as African governments scale up the provision of comprehensive and quality palliative care to patients, they should bear in mind that effective pain management should be central to the process of care.
This would include recommending pain medicines such as oral morphine and other opioids to be available to patients enduring pain.
According to the African Palliative Care Association (APCA), pain management is core to palliative care and the availability of opioids should be considered in health planning and policy development to ensure that patients especially suffering from HIV/Aids and cancer receive effective relief.
Opioids are recommended by the World Health Organisation for moderate to severe pain.
United States Ambassador to Namibia, Dennise Mathieu, echoed Kamwi’s sentiments for the availability of drugs for severe pain control such as opioids, which should be available for and accessible to those enduring pain.
The workshop is sponsored by the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, whose responsibilities, Mathieu said, include support for the scaling up of palliative care programmes for the growing number of children, adults and family members living with HIV/Aids.
So far, the ministry has integrated palliative care in the third medium term plan on HIV/Aids as a component of the minimum health care package.
It has also employed a senior programme manager for palliative care and opportunistic infections, to lead the promotion and development of palliative care in Namibia and has also included palliative care in the HIV/Aids policy.
Last year, about 200 home-based care volunteers from Rehoboth and Onamulenge received training from the APCA to integrate palliative care into the home-based family care programmes.
A survey carried out at these sites to collect baseline information on current services provided showed that palliative care was a component necessary to improve services.