A journey into palliative care – a new, occasional series of articles from IAHPC Traveling Scholars describing the events that led to their career in palliative care
By Dr. Nahla Gafer, a physician at the Palliative Care Unit at the Radiation and Isotope Center in Khartoum (RICK) in Sudan, in North East Africa.
My first encounter with palliative care was when a palliative care nurse (Esther Walker) volunteered to teach the nurses in our hospital. She proposed four lectures on nursing oncology and four lectures on palliative care. At that time, I wondered what there was in palliative care to say in four lectures!
I accompanied Esther to translate to the nurses from English to Arabic, and later became so interested in palliative care. As I visited the wards with her, I was struck by the lack of care, and the need for basic explanations to the patients and families.
Esther encouraged me to attend Hospice Africa Uganda’s Palliative Care Initiators’ Course and it was the IAHPC that partially sponsored me to attend. That was back in October 2009. In February 2010, we started the first palliative care referral clinic at the main oncology center where I worked. Our relations with IAHPC grew stronger as we increased our work and supported more patients. Sometimes our patients have even been referred from lreland or Spain; they are mainly Sudanese patients whose doctors have reached us through the IAHPC network.
IAHPC sponsored my colleagues and me at a time when no one could cover our expenses. ln a country where the salary of a doctor does not exceed 150 dollars a month, and where the needs are so great, IAHPC has made it possible for us to receive training, such as the six traveling scholarships to attend three courses and three conferences on palliative care (from 2009 till 2017). On two occasions in 2010 and 2011, we also received support to cover books and lecturers’ expenses for training in our country (attracting 72 candidates from two cities: Khartoum and Medani).
Recently, the administration of the hospital began to pick up on the importance of palliative care. Currently, we have a complete full-time palliative care team, working five days a week, seeing almost 100 patients per week, and a 10-bed ward. All patients at the hospital can be referred by their treating doctor and are seen on the same day. Our colleagues at Medani are also doing a good job, integrating palliative care for all inpatients, and involving the family doctors in home care services that are available to all patients who need palliative care, whether or not they have cancer.
We are grateful to Nahla for sharing her story with us. For reasons of space, the article is edited. Look out for more personal experiences in future issues of the newsletter.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Nahla Gafer is one of the 27 IAHPC Traveling Scholars who will be traveling to Madrid later this month to attend the 15th EAPC World Congress. We look forward to hearing more about their experiences at the congress in a future issue of the newsletter.
To find out more about IAHPC’s Program Support Grants, and our Traveling Scholarships and Traveling Fellowships, please visit our website. Through these programs we support projects and individuals around the world, especially in developing countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.You can contribute to this program and help palliative care workers attend and participate in congresses and courses by donating to the Traveling Scholarships Campaign in the Global Giving website