WHEN 24-year-old Joseph of Mbarara District was diagnosed with cancer last year, he thought about the painful death he would face. He worried about the sleepless nights he would spend wailing due to the pain that the infection brought him.
But now, he can live without pain, and has hope to live longer â€” thanks to the intervention of Hospice Africa Uganda (HAU).
Although Joseph has no hope of finding a cure for his disease, he is at least assured of a dignified death, a death without pain. HAU has introduced palliative care to help give the terminally-ill a ray of hope in life.
Palliative care involves providing social, physical and emotional support to the patients, besides medical treatment to help the terminally-ill to die with dignity, says Dr. Anne Merriman, the HAU founder.
HAU uses morphine, an oral solution, to reduce pain among the terminally-ill, especially those suffering from HIV/AIDS and cancer.
Merriman has since 1993, when she came to Uganda, advocated the use of morphine to save the terminally-ill from pain, although the solution is addictive.
â€œWhen one has a lot of pain, it ceases to be addictive,â€ she explains.
It is because of Merrimanâ€™s efforts that palliative care is now recognised by the Government.
â€œWe started with a 10-year-old Land Rover and money that took us for only three months. We did not have a centre, but the Catholic Church in Nsambya gave us a room where we operated from for months until the Irish Government came to our rescue,â€ she remembers.
Dr. Sam Okware, the commissioner for community health in the Ministry of Health, says they have integrated palliative care in the health package.
â€œWe are working with HAU to improve the quality of life for the terminally-ill through killing pain using oral morphine,â€ he says.
The ministry and HAU have trained over 4,000 palliative care service-providers in 34 districts. Palliative care has also been incorporated in the medical studentsâ€™ syllabus as a key subject.
There are five tutors of palliative care at the HAU headquarters in Makindye, a Kampala suburb. These move to medical institutions countrywide training service providers.
HAU holds a palliative care week every year. This year, it was held from May 12 to 17, under the theme: â€œFreedom from pain is a human right.â€
â€œWe want to ensure that palliative care reaches all individuals in Uganda and Africa, although we are constrained by staff retention and financial problems,â€ Merriman says.
Dr. Jack Jaggwe, the HAU senior advisor on drugs and policy advocacy, says they want the Makerere University Medical School to grant them a sub-department to carry out training and research to promote palliative care in Uganda.
Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, who graced the palliative care week, hailed HAU for volunteering to help the sick and prayed to God to relieve their pain.
The HAU patron and city businessman, James Mulwana, said being sick is not an automatic ticket to death. â€œI have always fallen sick.
I was in coma for nine days, but I survived. Amid our lives, we are faced with death anytime.â€
The terminally-ill do not have to die in pain