Jenny Hunt is a Zimbabwean clinical social worker specializing in palliative care and bereavement. An IAHPC Traveling Scholarship has enabled her to study for a Diploma in Palliative Care and formalize many years’ practical experience. Here, Jenny explains the challenges that confront palliative care in Zimbabwe and how her new skills will help her to make a greater contribution at national and local level.
Palliative care in Zimbabwe was established in 1979. Although attempts have been made over the years to expand services, it remains restricted to non-governmental organizations and is primarily accessible in urban and peri-urban areas. Political instability and serious economic hardships over the past two decades have triggered a significant brain drain of professional health staff. Despite a comprehensive palliative care training program for medical and nursing students, post-trained staff and volunteer caregivers, palliative care has yet to be fully integrated into the mainstream health system.
Regular morphine stock-outs and shortages of other palliative care medicines exacerbate the problems in providing effective palliative care. Diminished funding for HIV-related care and home-based caregivers has resulted in less palliative care provision in rural communities.
Against this background, I have worked for many years in palliative care. I worked for 12 years as the Bereavement Service Coordinator at Island Hospice Service in Harare but more recently I have been working as an independent consultant in several African countries as well as in Tsunami-affected India. It was only recently that I was able to formalize my experiences by studying for a Diploma in Palliative Care. Although I self-funded many of the expenses, I was delighted to receive an IAHPC grant which also enabled me to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, for the graduation ceremony and collect my diploma in person – bringing the study process to a satisfying end.
Having the Diploma in Palliative Care will allow me to continue working in palliative care around Africa, and in particular will give me the credibility required in my consultancy roles and in my positions of supervisor and mentor. Because of my years of experience in the field I am sometimes called on to sit on committees to develop policy, standards and curricula. I recommend that all palliative care practitioners in senior positions hold relevant qualifications and demonstrate experience. This diploma will achieve my goal to have both qualification and experience.
I hope that my training will provide me with the credibility and opportunities to contribute my skills to the national Hospice and Palliative Care Association of Zimbabwe and other interested parties in order to redress the negative impacts of our local context, developing innovative programs that can ensure holistic and multidisciplinary care for people living with life-limiting illness.