Each year, the IAHPC awards several grants to people who are working in palliative care in low- and middle-income countries enabling them to attend education and training events where their oral or poster presentation has been accepted. In May, we were delighted to provide grants enabling 11 people to attend the 14th World Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care, held in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 8-10 May.
In this edition, we welcome Irena Laska from Albania and Dr. André F. J. Santos from Brazil who give their impressions of the congress: what they learned and how they contributed. More reflections from other grantees will be published next month.
Irena Laska is a Nurse Manager working in Korce, Albania. Here, she describes some of the challenges facing the development of palliative care in her country and what she is taking back from the congress to support colleagues locally and nationally.
I am a member of the Mary Potter Palliative Care Center in the south east of Albania. Each year, our interdisciplinary team provides services to about 300 cancer patients in the terminal stage and their family members. Besides clinical care, our team is also involved in training health professionals (mainly GPs and nurses), student nurses, lobbying and advocacy, fundraising and raising awareness of the need for palliative care.
Our challenges over the years have been:
The specialization of doctors, mainly GPs and nurses, in palliative care is a continuing need that would increase access to palliative care throughout the entire country. The opioid available in Albania is morphine: tablets, injections and fentanyl patch.
In 2014, the palliative care law was approved and palliative care is now available not only to cancer patients but also to patients diagnosed with other diseases. The expected increased number of patients requiring palliative care will thus become an immediate issue, for existing teams have limited resources and cannot address the needs of all these patients. In practice, palliative care in Albania covers only 33.7 % of the patients’ needs and non-cancer patients are deprived of palliative care.
The congress gave me the opportunity, through presentations and posters, to learn more about new methods of treating and evaluating physical and psychological symptoms. I also learnt more about the patients’ and their family members’ needs both during treatment and after the death of the patient. I understand better the idea that patients and their family members are similar and have the same needs. What makes the difference is the availability of high quality palliative care.
Meeting with colleagues from developed countries gave me the chance to share with them my experiences, and to discuss our challenges, problems, achievements and future plans. I will share the information I have gained with members of my team who are in direct contact with patients and families, and with other health professionals (GPs and nurses) who attend our training sessions. As a member of the National Palliative Care Working Group, I will inform my colleagues about the work and achievements of our colleagues in other countries. This information may be useful to us in our lobbying and advocacy initiatives to improve and increase the availability of palliative care in our country for the benefit of our patients and their families. Thank you very much to the IAHPC for giving me this great opportunity to be part of such an important event.
Dr. André F. J. Santos, University Hospital in Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo State, Brazil, explains what the Traveling Scholarship has meant to him.
I am a geriatrician and have been working in palliative care for the past four years. In 2014, I started to work in palliative care in the emergency department at University Hospital in Ribeirão Preto, a city of 650,000 inhabitants in São Paulo State, Brazil. This work was a great challenge; palliative care is a recent development in Brazil and in the emergency department the pressure is very great and the cases are very different: trauma, stroke sequel, dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and others.
The chance to participate in the 14th World Research Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care, supported by the IAHPC, was a unique experience. It was my first international congress in palliative care and a great opportunity to exchange experiences and discover the most recent advances in palliative care.
During this event, I was able to hear presentations about subjects such as cancer cachexia, quality of life, symptom control, communication and palliative care for older people. I also presented the results of my PhD at the congress. I had studied the correlation of spontaneous physical activity with functional capacity and muscle quality in older patients with cancer cachexia syndrome and was able to exchange ideas with other researchers in cancer cachexia.
The support of the IAHPC Board of Directors, and the welcome they gave me, was great. To get to know the IAHPC team, and the other traveling scholars who had received grants, was a special moment during the congress. It was interesting to note that many participants around the world were facing similar problems with late patient referrals, as well as resistance to referral to palliative care by physicians, families and patients.
Outside the congress I had the chance to get to know Copenhagen and see a different way of ageing. Unfortunately, older people in Brazil do not have an ‘elderly-friendly’ public transport system as they do in Copenhagen. And seeing a woman in her 80s riding a bicycle with her shopping will be a wonderful reminder.
Traveling to the congress was an excellent moment of my education as a palliative care professional, and I offer my sincere thanks to the IAPHC for a truly memorable and enriching experience.