Taking care of people who are very sick or dying has
traditionally been left to hospices. But in a novel partnership,
the Gauteng Health Department will launch the Centre for
Excellent Palliative Care at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital
tomorrow (Friday, 15/08/2008). This integrates this kind of care
into the public health service.
More and more young people, particularly in their early 30s, are
needing palliative care. This is mostly due to HIV, which people
in their 30s probably picked up when they were much younger and
are getting ill with AIDS-defining conditions after years of
infection. Since 1997, the death rate in South Africa has gone up
by 87%. More deaths now occur in the 30 - 35 year age group than
in people aged over 60, says the head of Wits University's
Palliative Care Programme, Dr Natalya Dinat, as she flips through
a Statistics South Africa report which lists AIDS as the leading
cause of death in South Africa.
"You see, this is age 30 - 34. You've got more people dying in
that age group... This dying - a lot of it is not to do with war,
some of it's to do with violence, but it's a lot to do with
diseases that are associated with a lot of pain - HIV,
Dinat says the advent of antiretroviral therapy has helped, but
adds that it is too soon to expect illness and death due to AIDS
to abate, thus making palliative care essential.
"Even though there are antiretrovirals and even though we try and
access our patients antiretrovirals, there are still far too many
people dying and there are still far too many people suffering.
Yes, we need antiretrovirals. There's no doubt about that. We
should step up the antiretrovirals, but there's no reason why,
alongside that, we can't attend to people's pain and symptoms...
Eventually when everyone's on antiretrovirals and when we've got
great prevention, then our job in palliative care would be
looking after the elderly who are dying of cancer and dying of
illnesses which we can't do anything about", she declared.
Palliative care, says Dinat, "started being provided as a
specialised service in the 1970s. It focuses on three things:
curing patients - if possible, relieving their pain and offering
them much-needed comfort".
The Gauteng Health Department has committed to making palliative
care part of the health package in the public health sector.
Tomorrow, the Department will officially partner with Wits
University's Palliative Care Unit which has been operating at
Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital since 2003, and more recently at
Helen Joseph and Johannesburg hospitals, to deliver services. The
unit will now be a provincial Centre of Excellence in Palliative
Care and will serve to train doctors and nurses, conduct and
support research and will continue offering palliative care