palliative care in africa

Palliative Care

Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems: physical, psychosocial and spiritual. Palliative Care:

  • provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms;
  • affirms life and regards dying as a normal process;
  • intends neither to hasten nor to postpone death;
  • integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care;
  • offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death;
  • offers a support system to help the family cope during the patient's illness and in their own bereavement;
  • uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavemnet counselling, if indicated;
  • will enhance quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness;
  • is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life.

Palliative Care in Africa

Although it enables individuals to live their lives fully and to die free from pain and in minimal distress, Palliative Care remains neglected in Africa. In 2018 25.6 million people were living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, with 470,000 AIDS-related deaths. There are half a million cancer-related deaths per year, with rates being expected to double by 2040. Few will have died a pain-free, dignified death. Often palliative care does not even feature in national health strategies for several reasons, including:

  • a lack of understanding about palliative care;
  • a shortage of trained professionals;
  • rudimentary health and social structures;
  • restrictive drug laws that limit the availability of essential pain-controlling drugs such as morphine.


The challenges are big but there's plenty we can do to overcome them; we just have to create the right opportunities. The African Palliative Care Association (APCA) was formed to do just that.

Atlas of Palliative Care in Africa

The African continent has witnessed significant developments in palliative care, both as a health care service and as an academic discipline, at a time when regional and global frameworks are being emphasised and adopted. The last comprehensive review focusing on palliative care service development in Africa had been completed 15 years ago and the need for a more recent mapping of the region was needed. Thus the APCA Atlas of Palliative Care in Africa was published in 2017 along with the launch of Africa-specific palliative care indicators, which can be used to measure palliative care development in the region. The 19 context-specific palliative care indicators, serve as a significant milestone for monitoring, evaluation, and the effective implementation of palliative care programmes. Download the Atlas here for more information on palliative care in Africa. 

For more information about APCA's work click here