COVID-19: Why palliative care must not be undermined

A medical expert, Dr Oluwatomi Owopetu has urged the federal government not to undermine palliative care as it seeks to improve care and comfort for Nigerians, including COVID-19 patients.

Dr Owopetu, who spoke at a World Hospice and Palliative Care Day’s virtual meeting by the Hospice and Palliative care department of the University College Hospital, Ibadan, stated that palliative care was of utmost importance for the delivery of humane, effective care that is aligned to numerous patients’ expectations, including COVID-19 patients.

According to her, although palliative care services were relegated to the background because the health systems had to grapple with providing curative care for the ever-increasing influx of patients with COVID-19, disruptions in accessing such services caused more people to be sick and die from life-limiting illnesses.

“Many more people lived with pain and psychosocial issues for which they did not have adequate support through the programme,” she added.

She asked that the government put in place protocols to help ensure that in case of another pandemic, many more people would not be excluded from receiving the palliative care services because they could not access care in the hospital, further exacerbating inequities and inequalities.

Dr Owopetu said post-COVID-19, there was, therefore, the need to integrate palliative cares services into Primary Health Care system to ensure people in communities can access palliative care in the places where they live, where they work and when they require it.

She said however that a public health approach to palliative care would require government stockpiling enough opioid as well as the creating of structures and networks for people to receive basic training on palliative care and provide services in their communities.

Dr Owopetu added that only those that were too complex would then be referred to experts in palliative care services based in tertiary institutions or teaching hospitals like the University College Hospital to access care.

President, Centre for Palliative Care Nigeria, Professor Olaitan Soyannwo stated that palliative care was not all about those who were dying, but of those living with chronic illnesses, their families and loved ones.

Professor Soyannwo, a palliative care expert, stated that palliative care was just as crucial component of healthcare delivery as preventive, curative and rehabilitation aspects of medical care and advocated for greater its inclusion in health policies and guidelines.

—Sade Oguntola

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