September 2007 saw more than 400 delegates from over 30 countries gather in Nairobi, Kenya for the 2nd conference of the African Palliative Care Association (APCA). It was an exciting few days with delegates from such different countries having a chance to learn, share and plan. The energy and commitment shone through - but also the huge challenges facing those trying to ensure palliative care reaches those who need it most. The 'giants' of African palliative care were acknowledged and thanked (see left). East and South Africa have seen the greatest palliative care developments but there were delegates from West Africa and the francophone countries that were beginning to see changes. The delegation from Rwanda (see left) took time to plan together with a very proud Grace (front wearing white) who is about to graduate with a Diploma in Palliative care from Nairobi/Oxford Brooks; the first nurse to do so in Rwanda. Across the continent morphine availability and accessibility remain major barriers; as do other resources and training.
I then made the journey to Malawi with my 2 colleagues Prof Scott Murray and Dr Dorothy Logie. We were facilitating a Master trainer's course in the capital Blantyre; and supported by funding from the Scottish Executive. The course had been jointly arranged by the Palliative Care Association of Malawi (PCAM) and the Ministry of Health and sought to train the leaders in Malawi to teachers and trainers. It was a challenging week but inspiring and rewarding to work with such committed participants. They represented the key people who will take the palliative care agenda forward in Malawi - and very encouragingly, included senior participants and facilitators from the Ministry of Health. This government support will be crucial. We were also joined by Fatia Kiyange from APCA as a co-facilitator which again represents wider African support.
Malawi faces many challenges with significant HIV/AIDS prevalence, high maternal mortality, scarce resources, few doctors and a low GDP. Despite these challenges there is much being done in palliative care. There is an agreed manual for training and plans to include palliative care across the health sectors, including home based care. Making sure this training makes a difference in the villages and hospitals remains a challenges but we wish our colleagues well in Malawi as they seek to address these needs. It is a beautiful country - and the place where the idea for Cairdeas was born. You can see me under the baobab tree where the first Cairdeas vision was drawn up; maybe even the same tree that David Livingstone sat under! Lastly, sunset over the Shire River to the sound of hippos.