A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Behind the Caring Slogan- Hospice Uganda

(Above- Anne Merriman, Founder of Hospice Uganda)

Accommodation in Kampala comes courtesy of the wonderful Ita Harnett, an Irish doctor working out here, who is clinical director of Hospice Kampala.

Ita has opened her door, offering a warm welcome to myself and a motley crew of other travellers passing through, who are working with Hospice. Her hospitality and openness has given me a fantastic insight into the work of Hospice here; as well as death and dying in this country. I had a chance to go on some home visits with her and a team of nurses, and I also got to interview the founder of Hospice Uganda, the equally wonderful Anne Merriman.

Ita showed me a colourful T-shirt with dons the somewhat cheesy, but ‘hitting the nail on the head’ slogan of Hospice- ‘Palliative Care, Cares for You’ (Uganda’s seems to be pretty comfortable with direct marketing tactics!). Founded by Anne Merriman in 1993, Hospice Uganda was the third country to commence palliative care in Sub Saharan Africa, and has become the model Hospice for Hospice Africa.

I learned that palliative care really is about allowing patients to die in dignity, and with as little pain and discomfort as possible. It is about looking after physical, psychological and emotional needs of patients. Where patients are too ill to travel to clinics, doctors and nurses travel to them- an essential component in following through with the vision of hospice care.

Anne and her team have been pioneers of palliative care across Africa. One the key factors in ensuring success is being able to provide affordable morphine (pain relief) medication. Anne pioneered the manufacturing of cheap morphine in Uganda. A powdered form of morphine is imported into the country, and then made into a liquid form in the Hospice pharmacy. It is coloured with different food colourings (which represent different drug concentrations), and then distributed in recycled plastic water bottles. This method means that enough morphine for about 12 days can be produced for the cost of half a loaf of bread. Anne and a team of advocates work across Africa to promote low-cost morphine production, ensuring that as many people as possible can access such essential care and support.

Anne is quite a character. English by birth, she has lived in Africa for many years, including 10 years in Nigeria in the 1960s. She is a keen animal lover, and many a cat wanders around her home and office. On the day that I interviewed her, one of the cats jumped onto a laptop, and Anne burst out laughing- saying the cat is ‘after the mouse!’. I love her silly sense of humour- and now see where the cheesy slogans come from!


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