Thursday, December 23, 2010

Morphine for Christmas

I am writing this from a snowy and beautiful Scotland where temperatures staying well below zero and the contrast dramatic with the equatorial warmth of Uganda.I made it home despite the travel chaos in the UK to celebrate Christmas with my family. I am listening to all the familiar lyrics that are piped through our store and struck by 'all I want for Christmas is......' What do you want for Christmas? For many many people their wish and prayer is for pain relief; for accessible and affordable oral morphine. The good news is that our Mulago team last Friday had its first new supply of oral morphine liquid with heartfelt thanks to Hospice Africa Uganda and our Cairdeas appeal. I would have loved for you to see the smiles and the genuine relief as we were able to take the lurid green liquid (dyed that colour) on our ward round. You can see the delight on the face of Jo (our clinical lecturer) Francis (Degree student on placement) and Micheala (Swedish consultant volunteering for a month) and one of our nursing team, Harriet. The situation is not fully resolved but we now have morphine powder in country and hope to have the new system fully functional very soon. It made a very good reason to have a slice of Chrsitmas cake.  You can see the blackboard behind with many many names; our current in patient list. What kind of difference does oral morphine make for people in pain? Let me introduce you to Mr Sandrerson, a skilled tailor who is the chairman of the home based care volunteers for the Bangwe team in Blantyre, Malawi and whose home I visited recently. Working alongside the palliative care team these volunteers are key in supporting people in their own communities. "If we don't work together with the nurses how can we help our patients? If we see someone in pain and don't have any painkillers, don't have any morphine, then we feel we have let them down and get discouraged.' Let me also take you on a brief ward round in Mulago; first to the Burns Unit. Here patients can have unimaginable pain but the staff are experienced in prescribing oral morphine. However, with the recent shortage many many patients had no effective analgesia. Elizabeth tells a harrowing story of a family member deliberately sabotaging her paraffin with petrol leading to an explosion that seriously burned her as well as her daughters (2 and 11)
She has been in hospital for 2 months already for treatment but her pain had been severe with very little help. Now is is under control and she smiled 'I so appreciate your team visiting and bringing me morphine; thank you.' Richard is in a bed outside the ward because of the crowding and is swathed in bandages. Most of all he is worried about his wife who was injured when petrol was poured over them both and set alight. 'I used to dread the dressings being changed but now I can manage because you have brought me morphine; can you check if my wife has morphine too?' Lets go on to the orthopaedic wards and meet Wesley too; he is only 13 and had had major surgery for a tumour on his arm. His eyes dropped when we asked him what it was like to have severe pain and no morphine; 'I had no hope' he said, and then looked up with a shy smile, 'but now I have hope'.   
I want to say a huge thank you for the support for our morphine appeal. We have almost reached our initial target and will be able to put any extra towards a scholarship to support the training of a nurse to prescribe morphine as part of our Degree programme. Thank you for helping us to bring hope to people like Wesley, Richard and Elizabeth. Whatever your are doing this Christmas and whatever you are longing for, we all at Cairdeas and in our team at Makerere university wish you peace and joy to you and yours; echoing the words of the angels that first Christmas; 'Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth and good will towards man.'

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Travels with Cairdeas

One of my great privileges is to be able to travel, share something of the work we are doing here, meet and learn from colleagues and offer mentorship and support. The Palliative Care Unit at Makerere is doing some ground breaking work and we were delighted to be invited to share in recent conferences and meetings.
Cape Town saw the Primary Palliative Care Research forum; a group which seek to develop research to support 'all people having access to palliative care at all times and for all dimensions in all setting and in all nations'! An inspirational group of people and Drs Jo, Liz and I were delighted to share with colleagues across Africa as well as Canada, Australia, Belgium and Scotland and see something of the beauty of Cape Town.  Can you see our good friend Prof Scott Murray as well as new friends Alan Barnard, Geoff and Ann Mitchell, Bart and Sophia.
We then traveled to the 3rd conference of the Africa Palliative Care Association in Windhoek, Namibia. More than 300 people from 37
countries gathered to share the successes and progress across the region since the last conference in 2007; as well as look at the key challenges and opportunities ahead. The theme was 'Creativity in practice' and our team including our senior nurse, Josephine and we were all able to
present 6 papers and 1 workshop as well as meet up with some of our Degree students. One challenge shared by most countries is morphine consumption and availability as we know only too well here in Uganda. One speaker reminded us that the USA uses 250,000 times more morphine that Ethiopia; we were reminded that pain control and palliative care is a human right; a 'must have' rather than a 'nice to have'.
Back to Work in Uganda now after a whistle stop tour to the UK to meet supporters at our annual Cairdeas Gathering, celebrate our 5th birthday and share planning discussions with Trustees and other colleagues. We are delighted to have been given a grant by the Diana fund to support our research and training here in Mulago and also delighted to have Dr Jo Dunn and Dr Julia Downing (both pictured above) join us. Our team is growing and strengthening. Meanwhile our most pressing day to day challenge remains the lack of oral morphine. We are grateful for the help of Hospice Africa Uganda but we are all struggling to find ways to support our patients in pain until this crisis is resolved and morphine once again is freely available. I will use my next BLOG to tell you some stories and to properly introduce our Christmas appeal for oral morphine but for a preview there is a justgiving site.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Scotland meets Uganda

Uganda 2010 was the catch phrase of the Gerard St baptist church team visit in August. Led by our pastor, Mathew Henderson and Sara and Tom Anderson 13 folk fund raised, planned and arrived full of enthusiasm and energy! Many were on their first visit to Africa and all were so keen to get involved and to share with people here. The aim of the visit was to see more of my work here but also to offer a blessing to me and my team, to patients and families, to children at a church holiday week. After a seminar to introduce the topic of 'spiritual care for the sick' along with my Mulago team and friends from church, they visited patients and families in Mulago Hospital and at home. It was not easy to see people who had so few resources and facing such difficulty but as ever there was tears and laughter, encouragement and sorrow and a sense of sharing together. They were warmly welcomed into my local church; Lugogo Baptist and learned to dance African style . They ate local food, sang on the minibuses, shopped in the markets, got sick, got better and all with the same enthusiasm and fun. A real highlight was a day offering support to a local slum community Naguru. The church has a number of links and members from here and we joined in a work party to clean out ditches, sweep with traditional brooms and watch an amazing bridge built. The latter replaced a rickety old bridge that had led to the death of a child
who fell off in a rainy spell. What a privilege! The church prayed that the bridge would also be a bridge between the communities and to God.
The Scots also took part in the children's holiday club with the Compassion kids, had radical haircuts, 

hurtled down the Nile in rafts, discovered they liked matoke, spotted a lioness and spent a memorable couple of days in the beauty of Murchison national park. Most of all I want to thanks them for the way they listened and shared and even cried and prayed with our patients and families. They showed the common humanity we share and the value we give when we take time to listen and to offer care - but most of all to offer ourselves. Thanks you to each one of you; I know you have spoken of the life changing difference this trip has made in your own lives. I look forward to hearing more from you at the Cairdeas Gathering on October 30th in Aberdeen (more details on the website

Friday, September 24, 2010

A 'Degree for Africa' reaches further

Firstly apologies for being so slow at posting once again. We will have a Facebook page soon and it should allow for a faster rate of news! These past few months have sped by as we worked hard to be ready for the next group of students on the BSc Degree. We had a further intake to Year 1 (Diploma) as well as the first Year 2 group (pictured on the left) . All the latter had already completed a Diploma in the past. What an inspirational group of students. They now represent 8 countries across the continent and have stories to tell of the sacrifices they have made to be able to take part on the course.
One student from Zimbabwe shared how she had only received confirmation of her funding in the last week of her teaching month and had come to Uganda as a 'step of faith'.

We have a mentorship programme to support the students and you can see me with my Year 1 Malawi students (Linly, Idah and Alex). Lameck is one of my Year 2 mentees and leads the palliative care association in Malawi and brings many years of experience. This is the first opportunity he has had to undertake a Degree level course and is already a leader for palliative care in his country. Notice the Scottish connection - a present from Highland Hospice on a previous visit. Elizabeth is from Nigeria and is the lead nurse at a major hospital. The faculty is led by the Director of Education at Hospice Africa Uganda, Flavia Bukandana and coordinated by Consilous who you can see here with Frida from my Mulago team and Francesca from Zimbabwe. We have a great team in partnership with Makerere University (especially our Palliative Care Unit) and the African Palliative Care Association. You can see Dr Jo with some of the men (Batholomew, Gideon, Willy and Alex). We also have a link with UK faculty via THET and it was a pleasure to welcome one of my old Scottish colleagues from Glasgow - Dr Mike Basler. He fitted right in!!  We not only learned from each other with the students working hard for a long month but we also sang and danced and even paddled in Lake Victoria. Please remember these students as they are now back in their own countries studying at a distance and sending in their course work.  At a social event in Dr Anne Merriman's home they symbolically lit one candle and gave it to her before each lighting in turn. Light spreading across Africa to bring relief to those in need. Let the flame burn brightly.....
While we were welcoming the students I also had a wonderful team visit from Gerrard Street Baptist church in Aberdeen. This deserves a BLOG post all in its own right so will add very soon.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Monsoon and mentoring

 After some big challenges regarding permits and weather and illness the team of Grahame and Cheryl Tosh from the UK, Hamilton from Vellore and myself made it to the beautiful and remote state of Aizawl. Over an eventful 10 days we spent time with colleagues from Durtlang Presbyterian Hospital in Aizawl and Serkawn Baptist Hospital in Lunglei. The journey between the two places involves precipitous drops, hairpin bends, near misses, amazing views from tea stalls, stunning early morning mists, some travel sickness and even a beautiful waterfall on the way back. I have even found a mountain called 'leng' - maybe to climb on the next visit. We celebrated my birthday with typical Mizo breakfast and hours of singing! It was very encouraging to see how the principles of palliative care are being incorporated into these excellent hospitals. Dr Sanga at Durtlang has a significant role in caring for young men affected by substance misuse and there is an HIV/AIDS hospice aptly called Grace Home. Dr Lalramzauza, medical director of Serkawn,  attended the Toolkit training last year along with the senior nurse tutor. They have formed a small palliative care team seen here and we had the privilege of meeting some of their patients. One very ill elderly man spoke of the incredible hope and comfort he now knows because of the touch of God in his life. We shared and prayed with him and his wife. Mizoram is a Christian state where church support is central to peoples lives. How is this for good advice in a prayer garden? It says 'Listen to God'.
Mizoram's monsoon kept us a few days longer than planned but I was able to visit Bangalore and take part in the first HIV Palliative Care course at St John's Hospital led by Dr Shoba Nair. It was great to teach with Prof Rajagopal again and to see the great work of Snehadan HIV center led by Father Matthew Perumpil.
Off to Delhi in the 45+ degree heat and on to Lucknow with our team for the first ever Palliative Care Toolkit training in Uttar Pradesh. Jo Dunn from the UK works with Hospice Africa Uganda and was on her first trip to India, Chitra is of course my dear friend and colleague and senior palliative care and psychiatry doctor in India and Nicholas Mellor from the Palliative Care Partnership joined us to see the Toolkit training in action. We worked with our local colleagues Sanjay Diraj and Shakeel Ahmed from SGPGI and Piyush Gupta and his team at Canceraids society. We had an amazing week. The participants were enthusiastic and open and shared so much with us as well as seeming to really gain from the training. They came from 6 institutions and organisations in Lucknow as well as other parts of the state. We were also able to raise awareness in medical institutions in Lucknow, hold a press conference, share with senior colleagues in Lucknow and Agra and meet some patients. The press conference achieved  great media coverage and there are now many patients asking for help that is sadly very scarce in this huge state. As ever the needs are for continued support and mentoring but we wish all our participants every blessing as they seek to put their training into practice. here are a few quotes;  'It was excellent training and definitely it will be helpful to our work' 'I am really thankful to the organising committee for allowing us to be a part of this wonderful experience. I will do my best to practice my knowledge for the patients from today itself'
India of course offers so much to tantalise the body and saturate the senses. We ate wonderful food; Mogul shami kebabs; creamy buffalo butter in buns, melt in the mouth samosa, succulent bamboo shoots from the mountains, crisp dosai for breakfast, sweet sticky jellabies, burning hot parenthe in the back streets of Old Delhi washed down with spicy chai. We experienced something of the ancient culture - not least the most famous monument to love, the Taj Mahal.
Talking of culture; in the famous city of poetry, Lucknow, I had a poem written and recited to me by one of my students - in Hindi!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Hope and courage

Many thanks for all the messages of encouragement about our Degree students. They are sitting exams at the end of their first semester and mostly doing well. We have now selected 20 more for the August intake with 8 countries represented; very exciting. I had the privilege of meeting up with 3 of our Malawi students on a recent visit. Let me introduce you to Davie Mpate. He is a clinical officer at Mulange Mission Hospital which nestled at the foot of the Mulange Massif. Davie became interested in palliative care through his work with HIV/AIDS and is brimming with enthusiasm. Here he is with the new vehicle for
home visits that has been bought by Hospice Africa UK. The small palliative care team see patients from a 40km radius of the hospital which also offers health care to very poor and rural villages. Presently there is no resident doctor at the hospital and it is clinical officers like Davie and nursing staff who do the majority of clinical work in many such centres. Davie is passionate about palliative care and supporting those in need and excited about the training opportunities offered by the Degree programme. It was so encouraging to meet him as well as 2 others students; Chris at Ndi Moyo in Salima and Fred at the paediatric wards in Queen's Hospital in Blantyre. Mentorship visits like this can be an important source of encouragement and support for students as well as
giving us a real feel for the challenges and achievements of our students and I hope to be able to make such visits annually supported by Cairdeas. These students will be the leaders for palliative care and give us great hope for the future. I also had the chance spend a few days climbing Mulange (you can see why it is called the 'island in the sky') and then relaxing by lake Malawi with my friend Geoff.  What an amazing privilege to be able to explore such beautiful places.

Back in Mulago we have been busy with the undergraduate and postgraduate exams with a communications exam included for the first time. Our clinical team is busy with increasing numbers of referrals. Let me introduce you to a young woman we met recently on the wards.Angela has a bone disease that means she is liable
to fractures and recently broke her hip which cannot be mended surgically. She is in constant pain and her family were praying they would find some help. When our nurse Regina came the next day and was able to give support and prescribe oral morphine Angela slept for the first time in weeks. What a difference yet morphine is not available to so many millions and even in Uganda we are struggling with a regular supply  and in serious risk of running short this month. Angela could not thanks us enough and despite her continuing pain and
disability she has such a grace and peace. Her mother cried as she shared about their fears and Angela's courage and again thanked the 'angels who helped in their hour of need' . Here is Angela sharing some verses from Psalm 41v1-3 which talk of the blessings for those who help the sick and the protection and healing that comes from God. We left her room encouraged and humbled.
Thanks as ever for your support. I am back to India soon to follow up on previous visits and of course see great friends and colleagues, eat spicy food and gaze at the mountains of Mizoram once more.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Building for the future

Is there anything more rewarding than mentoring and supporting committed, enthusiastic, compassionate colleagues and seeing them grow and develop? It is perhaps the greatest gift we offer in Cairdeas and one of my personal privileges. The new BSc in palliative care has been long been a dream, had a tricky and demanding gestation. But finally we have our 'Degree for Africa' and the prospect of training many many future leaders for palliative care in Africa. Here is a truly inspiring group of palliative care colleagues. Some are part of the team from Hospice Africa Uganda and Makerere University who have developed and now teach this new Degree programme. The rest are some of our first group of 21 students who started year 1 in February. They come from Uganda, Kenya, Namibia, Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania. We have mothers, poets, government workers, mission hospital staff; they speak different languages and come from different cultures;  yet all have such a commitment to learn and to make a difference for the many many who are in need in their countries. They have completed an intense 4 weeks of face to face teaching and now have gone back to their own countries to work at a distance completing assignments and exams and then clinical placements. Those leaving after Year 1 with a pass will be awarded a Diploma and others will stay on till Years 2&3 to complete their BSc. We have a further 13 coming straight into Year 2 in August who already hold a relevant Diploma. What an exciting opportunity for all of us! Here are the 5 students from Malawi where palliative care developments go from strength to strength. Do you like our team tee-shirts? I think wee Hannah is a bit too young for now. Why do we need this Degree? The majority of those in need in sub-Saharan Africa who face life limiting illness with pain, distress, loneliness and financial desperation do not have access to help. Most will not be able to have even basic pain relief with oral morphine. Families will struggle without support. These students and all those they in turn will teach and train will help to make a difference; please pray for them.
One last visit for this post. I have not only the privilege of seeing students train but also to be able to support and offer expertise to more senior colleagues. A fascinating conference recently in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia brought together many from across the Arab world as well as international experts form the WHO, USA, UK, Europe and yours truly! This Initiative to Improve Cancer Care in the Arab World (IICCAW) had the ambitious aim of eliciting the current stare of services and planning and brining together a strategic planing process for the next 10 years. We worked hard and there were impressive results - now to put it into action. I was especially pleased to meet palliative care colleagues from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Sudan, UAE, Qatar, and interested others from a wider field. Riyadh is a very different place; full of the usual warm open Arabic hospitality yet also seems a world apart. It is respectful for women to be covered in public so I had my first experience of wearing an abayah. Who would have thought!