Understanding palliative care

The mention of “death” brings chills to most people’s spines. It is a very touchy subject, which most people try to avoid at all costs. The bottom line is no one wants to die.

Nevertheless, the sad reality is that death is inevitable and we will all die eventually due to various reasons, chief among them life-threatening illnesses. According to recent statistics, the top health threats facing the people of Zimbabwe are HIV and AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis and malaria.

Declining economic conditions have weakened the country’s health system with most people ending up receiving care from home due to limited financial resources. When a person succumbs to life threatening illness, the comprehensive quality care and support offered to that individual by family, caregivers and health professionals is known as palliative care. However, evidence in Zimbabwe show that there still limited knowledge and appreciation of palliative care. A general analysis on people’s understanding of the subject indicated that only a few really understand it.

Palliative care addresses the needs that emanate from life-limiting and chronic illness, relieving suffering and supporting patients (children and adults) and their families through difficult times of illness and bereavement. It’s a holistic approach that addresses physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients and their families (loved ones). Palliative care works well alongside and within other programmes. It is uniquely about living as well as dying. A key component of palliative care is that it goes beyond the patients to support families, caregivers and health professionals. Palliative care plays an important role in the care of patients living with chronic and life threatening illnesses, such as HIV and AIDS, cancer and other non-communicable diseases. It provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms as well as integrates the psychosocial and spiritual aspects of patient care. Team work in palliative care is an important aspect to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counselling. This applies with children as well, hence health providers must evaluate, assess and alleviate a child’s physical, psychological, and social distress.

However, most people do not really understand why we should care for our loved ones who are sick and some dying. In the African culture, most people regard talking of one’s death as a taboo with the subject being avoided at all costs. Yet, is it also very critical for the dying patient to get pain management medication, legal advice on inheritance, will writing, for instance, which are some of the critical palliative care components. Consequently, relieving all forms of stress and discomforts on the dying palliative care patient is important, not only to improve the quality of their lives, but also so that they go peacefully and with dignity when their time inevitably comes. Thus, palliative care treats pain, depression, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, anxiety and any other symptoms that may be causing distress in the patient and his/her family.

Palliative care is not just care provided in the final stages of life, but will help one to live well with a life-threatening illness early on from point of diagnosis. Through long-term interactions with their palliative care team who see them during the course of their illness, palliative care is of benefit for a person through various stages of an illness. In addition, palliative care benefits are multifaceted and they include,

Relieves unnecessary physical and psychological suffering and improves adherence to interventions

Enables patients to participate in family and community life

Can free both patients and carers to resume work and make a living

Can keep families (and in some cases, communities) functioning

Underpins the dignity of the patient right until their death


Ensures patients and their carers are never alone.

Since its inception in 1999, Hospice and Palliative Care Association of Zimbabwe (HOSPAZ) has been upholding its vision of making palliative care accessible to all. HOSPAZ is the national coordinating body for palliative care providing organizations in Zimbabwe and uses advocacy, capacity development and membership coordination to promote palliative care and support care providers. With help from its partners, the organisation has been instrumental in the development of standards of care, which set parameters for the provision of care services. HOSPAZ has been instrumental in supporting Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) to develop care related policies, training manuals and informational materials to improve palliative care provision. HOSPAZ Director, Eunice Garanganga had this to say, “Palliative care is not just care provided in the final stages of life, but right from the point of diagnosis. It is everyone’s responsibility; the patient, family, community, nurses and doctors, Government to work together to provide this special care so that patients are free of pain and suffering”.

For any enquires please feel free to contact HOPSAZ on email information@hospaz.co.zw or visit our website (www.hospaz.co.zw)

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