“Doctor, am I going to die?” It is a question no doctor enjoys answering, especially when is involves an 11-year old. Yet, this is something Dr Lindsay Farrant and her colleagues from the Big Shoes Foundation (an organisation serving the palliative needs of children) in Cape Town have to discuss with young patients and their families almost every day.
Farrant delivered a presentation on the palliative needs of paediatric patients at the Hospice Palliative Care Association’s annual conference currently underway in Cape Town. Palliative care includes primary medical treatment and is concerned with providing comfort (often in the form of pain relief) and support to patients and their families.
Most people think that hospice and palliative care is required only by the aged and terminally ill cancer patients, yet there are thousands of children who also require pain management and psychosocial treatment to deal with an illness and even end-of-life care.
In the Western Cape alone, 4 500 children died in 2007, while in 2009 nearly 400 000 were living with a chronic illness. According to Farrant, around 80 000 of these children (and their families) require palliative services in the form of counselling, support or medication.
Their patients often have neurological problems, cancer, congenital or genetic conditions, and many suffer from HIV and tuberculosis.
Where regular doctors often only address a patient’s disease, palliative caregivers assess the patient’s overall physical and psychological needs, and provide comfort and support as well as medical assistance.