Understanding Hospice Care

When a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness it affects everyone to whom that loved one is connected.  Providing for the loved one’s emotional and physical needs in order to live out their lives with comfort and dignity is of highest importance to us.  Loved ones often forego life-prolonging treatment options in order to live as pain-free as possible, the focus is to pursue quality time spent with loved ones.

Both Hospice care and Palliative care aim to provide comfort to patience, but palliative care can begin in early diagnosis while hospice care begins after treatment of the disease is stopped and when it is clear that the person may not survive the illness.

Current Condition of Hospice and Palliative care in Ethiopia

Ephrem Abathun, Executive Director at Hospice Ethiopia, and Nicola Ayers, the Palliative Care Advisor at the Federal Ministry of Health, Ethiopia described the current condition of these programs in Ethiopia.

What is the current availability and accessibility of hospice and palliative care in Ethiopia?

At the moment, hospice and palliative care services in Ethiopia are limited. There are only two Non-Governmental Organisations working in Addis Ababa. These services provide limited coverage in the capital, covering four of the 10 sub-cities.

What does Hospice Ethiopia aim to achieve?

Hospice Ethiopia aims to be a centre of excellence in the provision of quality hospice care services to all people with life-threatening illness and to be a centre for training and research in Ethiopia.

Tell us about the challenges and opportunities that Hospice Ethiopia faces to provide palliative care for all?

To provide palliative care in Ethiopia is an enormous task. The challenges we face are various.

Firstly there is a lack of awareness about palliative care as a concept. Secondly, to provide coverage for a population of 100 million people is a huge undertaking, outside of the cities most people work as farmers in very rural areas.

The need for trained health care professionals is huge and morphine availability is still an issue. Furthermore, obtaining finance for palliative care services is also a big challenge.

However, we also have great opportunities as an organisation, we have been working with the Federal Ministry of Health by helping to prepare national guidelines and teaching doctors, nurses and pharmacists about pain assessment and control.

Where do you see the future opportunities for hospice and palliative care in Ethiopia?

Future opportunities include the scale-up of palliative care services in the country. As already mentioned, hospice and palliative care is only available in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Other opportunities would also include the wide-spread training of all levels of health care professionals. Furthermore, we would also like to see more palliative care research carried out in Ethiopia.

Where do you see hospice and palliative care in Ethiopia in 2030?

In 2030, we would see hospice and palliative care in Ethiopia as a part of the current exciting health structure. We would also see palliative care training given to medical students and student nurses and other allied health care professionals. We would also like to see palliative care being practised as an evidence-based specialty.

What is the main lesson you have learned working at Hospice Ethiopia?

Personally, the main lesson I have learn working at Hospice Ethiopia is the importance of working as a team and providing a ‘family-style’ service.

There is an Ethiopian proverb that states: “for one person 50 lemons is a burden, for 50 people, 50 lemons are like jewelry.”

The background to this proverb is that in the countryside, lemons were given by men to women to show their love for each other. A man gives a lemon, a bit like in the West, we would give an engagement ring.

Therefore, the meaning of this proverb demonstrates that if the burden of palliative care is a shared concern, it will turn into something beautiful.

Source: WHOCA (07 October 2015), Working towards excellence in Ethiopian hospice and palliative care.

Dr Ephrem Abathun, Clinical Head of Department at Hospice Ethiopia, and Nicola Ayers, the Palliative Care Advisor at the Federal Ministry of Health speak about the program. Video courtesy of Hospice Ethiopia UK partnership.