Lesotho reels under communicable diseases burden


. . . palliative care measures deemed panacea


MASERU – Lesotho, like many other countries, is confronted with the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases which affects not only the physical health of those diagnosed but also puts a strain on the healthcare systems. This is according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Lesotho, Dr. Richard Banda, who notes that the rising burden of cancer in Lesotho can suggest the possibility of a good number of individuals enduring severe pain and the need for the right palliative care measures.

He said the country, therefore needs urgent and concerted action to scale up access to quality palliative care services. Banda said palliative care is not the last resort but should be integrated early into the care of people affected by a life-threatening condition. WHO advocates for the fundamental human right of every individual to receive adequate and dignified palliative care.

In recognition of this, WHO has resolved that palliative care is an ethical responsibility for health systems. Banda said quality health services and palliative care are inseparably linked, and both are vital for the achievement of Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

He noted that by embedding palliative care within primary health care, they will be ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their health status or location, have access to essential services and support. He added: “We must have a transformative approach that ensures the provision of palliative care at an earlier stage of an illness and at all levels of care, promoting a better quality of life for patients.

“Optimal palliative care in Lesotho will require a supportive policy environment, empowered communities, palliative care research, as well as access to essential palliative care medicines.” As a way of addressing the existing gaps, WHO has released new resources to support countries in assessing the development of palliative care and improving the quality of palliative care services.

Banda called on the government, healthcare professionals, health partners, civil society organisations, and communities to collaborate to develop clear policies, guidelines, and standards, to build the capacity of healthcare providers and carers in the communities, and to raise awareness to ensure that palliative care becomes an integral part of the healthcare system.

“I urge us all to strengthen our efforts and commit ourselves to ensuring that every individual facing life-limiting illnesses in Lesotho receives the compassion, care, and dignity they deserve,” Banda advised.

Director General of the Ministry of Health, Dr. ’Nyane Letsie, said there is a need to raise awareness and make people understand that palliative care is not only about cancer patients and that there are a lot of chronic diseases where people, at the end of them, need palliative care.

She said all of them are not neglected, but their services are so scarce, adding that it is time they made sure that their services were available.

Most importantly, Letsie stressed the need to prevent, saying that through primary healthcare, they need to get all patients to care and make sure they raise awareness on prevention with no discrimination because they are hidden in households.

“We need to prepare the relatives and carers to do it properly. It should start with prevention, screening, early detection, early treatment, early referral, and making sure that they adhere to treatment,” she explained.

She further noted that the palliative care of chronic lung diseases is too much; hence, they now need to supply patients with oxygen at home, where it becomes more difficult when someone does not have electricity but needs to be given oxygen 24 hours a day.

She said: “Which means if we had treated TB early, or any of the chronic lung diseases, we would not have reached there.” Their new strategy of integrated service delivery, where they also visit villages, she said, also includes palliative care.

The Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Health, ’Mamoliehi Ntene, highlighted that Basotho are experiencing a growing disease, pain, and symptom burden of cancer and other chronic conditions to include HIV, kidney failure, complications associated with diabetes, hypertension, TB, and others that need a strong multi-sectoral, holistic approach and collaboration with stakeholders.

She said as the ministry, they already have plans to reduce the burden of care at the clinical level and have embarked on an integrated health approach.

In that manner, they are trying to strengthen public health coverage. The ministry is committed to developing and executing evidence-based policies and guidelines and providing support with regard to palliative care and hospice care in Lesotho in line with international standards and guidelines.

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