KARACHI    -     The community-based palliative care can serve to be a cost-effective method to provide care to individuals undergoing serious illness, said speakers at the 1st Palliative Care Symposium at Aga Khan University here Friday.

Addressing the event held on the occasion of World Hospice and Palliative Care Day they reminded that there were less 10 health facilities that deliver palliative care under the supervision of trained palliative specialists. Under the given circumstances they strongly recommended empowering of volunteer nurses and physicians to help improve patient wellbeing in the country on palliative care.

Dr Ali Haider, Assistant Professor at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center USA, Dr Nareen Saleem, Aga Khan University and others were of unanimous opinion that training and empowering volunteer nurses and physicians could change palliative care - a method of care and support of a patient’s wellbeing by ensuring their physical, social and psychological needs. It was also mentioned on the occasion that an estimated 40 million people are in need of palliative care in the world, 78 per cent of whom live in low and middle-income countries.

Speakers emphasizing the importance of palliative medicine noted that it remains a low-priority issue in the country and AKU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery has taken the lead in this field by introducing an elective course on palliative care to meet gaps in the national nursing curriculum.

There is a need for increasing public awareness and formalizing training to establish palliative care opportunities for homes and at the community level, they said.

Dr Ali Haider, an assistant professor of palliative medicine at University of Texas mentioned that patients who receive early palliative care in the course of treatment of disease have to be given less-aggressive care towards the end of their life and have a longer survival rate since it significantly improves their quality of life and mood.

Differentiating between hospice and community-based care, the speaker noted that while a hospice is a paid practice world-wide, training and volunteering nurses and individuals can be an affordable practice for families to enable better living of patients.

He also highlighted the role of family physicians in providing holistic palliative care to patients with life-limiting illnesses owing to their accessibility to communities.

Due to a physician’s familiarity with patient’s health history, they are able to advice on a multidimensional care model for the family, said Dr. Ali Haider.

Dr. Nasreen Salim spoke about how palliative care is associated with patients suffering from cancer when in reality both patients and families can benefit from it for any illness that may shorten life.

“Some people also believe that it should be practiced when a doctor has given up on a patient and there is no hope,” she said.

Another myth the speaker tackled was about children’s palliative care that it can only be offered in high-resourced settings when in reality, it can be provided in community health centres and in homes too.

“Palliative care, on the flipside, ensures living life as fully as possible through compassionate, patient-centred care,” said Dr Nasreen Saleem, a senior instructor on palliative care at AKU.

The symposium was held in collaboration between the University’s departments of oncology, family medicine, paediatrics and child health and AKU School of Nursing and Midwifery.

The event was attended by healthcare professionals, nursing leaders, social workers, health policy makers and medical education leaders.