Rwanda Launches National Palliative Care Policy

Recently, Rwanda reached another health care milestone in officially adopting a national palliative care policy. The IntraHealth-led HIV/AIDS Clinical Services Program (HCSP), with technical assistance from partner Mildmay International, supported the policy’s development and adoption.

Nearly three years ago, IntraHealth International conducted an assessment of Rwandan health workers, leadership, and people living with HIV and AIDS and found that only 50% of the health workers could define palliative care accurately. None of those workers involved with health policy or any of the people living with HIV/AIDS, who were asked, could define palliative care. These results are perhaps not surprising given that palliative care is largely unavailable in Africa. Yet, as Rwandans and people in many developing countries are living longer, they are increasingly living with illness, including non-communicable diseases. Many are in need of palliative care to improve their quality of life through chronic and terminal illnesses.

In response, Rwanda has developed one of the first palliative care policies in Africa, which states that, by 2020, all Rwandans living with an incurable illness, as well as their families and caregivers, will have access to high quality, affordable palliative care services to meet their physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs. The policy will serve as a legal and logistical framework to help Rwanda ensure the regular supply of resources, including pain medications, and regulate their use for palliative care purposes. The policy will also help guarantee standards for care, beginning with adequate pre-service and in-service training for health workers. The policy outlines the tools, guidelines, and protocols needed to act on the new palliative care standards, as well as laws to govern the use of prescription opioids for pain (e.g., morphine) and ensure their regular supply.

Read more about the new policy in IntraHealth’s feature article “Rwanda: One of the First National Palliative Care Policies in Africa.”

At the request of the Ministry of Health, in February 2008, IntraHealth’s HIV/AIDS Clinical Services Program, with technical assistance from partner Mildmay International, started palliative care training in four district hospitals—Kibagabaga, Nyagatare, Rutongo, and Byumba—and their health centers. When Rwanda moved to make the services available nationally, IntraHealth and Mildmay provided technical assistance to support the Ministry of Health in drafting the national palliative care policy, protocol, and strategic plan and supported an iterative stakeholder review process leading to their final adoption this year.

IntraHealth supports the Kibagabaga District Hospital and leads the HIV/AIDS Clinical Services Program in the Gasabo, Gicumbi, Nyagatare and Rulindo districts. The program is funded by USAID.