Experts have pointed out that the absence of a national palliative care policy in Uganda is causing difficulties in delivering proper services to patients with terminal illnesses such as cancer.
According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Health, only 11 percent of the estimated 500,000 Ugandans in need of palliative care can access these services.
During the commemoration of the 2023 World Hospice and Palliative Care Day (WHPCD) at Taibah International School on October 14, Mark Donald Mwesiga, the executive director of the Palliative Care Association of Uganda (PCAU), emphasized the importance of having a guiding policy. He stated that the policy would provide direction to both the government and civil societies in the delivery of palliative care services.
Mwesiga pointed out that the budget of the Ministry of Health (MOH) currently lacks a specific allocation for palliative care. In 2018, a proposal was made to allocate at least Shs2.5 billion solely for palliative care, but it has not been implemented, and palliative care remains integrated with general primary health services. This has led to a lack of palliative care services in 40 out of the 146 districts and cities.
Experts believe that the government needs to invest intentionally to expand palliative care services from health centers to homes. However, this expansion has been hindered by the absence of an enabling guiding policy.
The 2023 WHPCD commemoration took place under the theme “Compassionate Communities: Together for Palliative Care.” During this event, a Pioneer Palliative Care School Club was launched, formed by a group of 30 high school students. The club’s aim is to advocate for palliative care, raise awareness, support resource mobilization, and provide practical assistance to improve food and nutrition for patients and families facing health-related suffering.
Rose Kiwanuka, the first palliative care nurse in Uganda, emphasized the continued need for palliative care due to the increasing number of people living with lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases.
Dr. Muwanga Moses, the Assistant Commissioner under Clinical Services in charge of Palliative Care and Hospice at the MOH, mentioned that the government has expanded palliative care services to most health facilities, connecting with regional referrals.
He assured that palliative care is available in 107 health facilities and there are plans to cover the remaining 40 districts. The awareness about palliative care is also being raised among the public, as non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and cancers are on the rise, increasing the demand for these services.