Richard A Powell, Deputy Director, Research (formerly of the African Palliative Care Association) HealthCare Chaplaincy, New York, USA, introduces a longer article that is published in the July/August edition of the European Journal of Palliative Care.
This July sees the start of a five-part series of papers on palliative care and research in Africa in the European Journal of Palliative Care and I’m reminded of a traditional proverb from the continent.
A story is told of a young man, sitting by a riverbank, discouraged since he could not swim across the river. An elderly man walked up, rolled up his trousers, and strode out across the surface of the water. The young man was in disbelief until another elderly man arrived, similarly rolled up his trousers and also walked across the water’s surface. Eventually, a third elderly man arrived and did the same thing! Finally, the young man decided to try for himself. He rolled up his trousers and tried to walk across the surface of the water – only to sink and be carried away by the swift current. The three elderly men looked back and replied, “If only he had asked us – we could have told him where the stones were placed to cross over the river safely!”1
Transitioning from infancy, to adolescence and adulthood is a process of maturation that benefits from a nurturing environment that minimises mistakes and accelerates learning and growth. Not wishing to over-extend the analogy, but this environment is often best comprised of individuals from diverse settings and experiences, each of whom imparts something distinctive to those they seek to mentor.
And so, as a consequence of mutual learning from colleagues at varying stages of professional development both within and outside Africa, over the coming year (from July 2013-March 2014) the journal will run papers that first provide an overview of palliative care and research in Africa, before profiling the continent’s sub-regions: southern and central, eastern, western and northern.
Whilst outlining some of the challenges to conducting palliative care research in Africa, they will also highlight some of the commendable achievements that have been realised, too. From the foundational development of patient-reported outcome tools for adults and children, validated within the highly diverse African context, to the elaboration of a region-wide, prioritised palliative care research agenda, from the unearthing of people’s end-of-life care priorities and preferences, to the costing of interventions seeking to address these and other palliative care needs, from an exploration of the multi-dimensional nature of the physical disease burden and its correlates, to an uncovering of the spiritual domains of patients’ experiences.
Palliative care research in Africa is growing in stature, supported by committed researchers and practitioners from the continent, the US and Europe, with the latter in part manifested in the EAPC Task Force on Collaboration with Africa. With continued strategic thinking, ongoing mentoring and practical support, it is anticipated that the watery fate that befell the young man who’d failed to consult his elders will not be replicated by those among us committed to advancing African palliative care research.
1. Adapted from J Maguire. The Power of Personal Storytelling: Spinning tales to connect with others. New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1998: 137-38.
To find out more…
- The article to which this post relates, ‘Palliative care research in Africa: an overview’ by Richard A Powell, Richard Harding, Eve Namisango, Elly Katabira, Liz Gwyther, Lukas Radbruch, Scott A Murray, Maged El-Ansary, Ike Oluwapo Ajayi and Faith Mwangi-Powell is published in the July/August 2013 issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care (vol. 20, issue 4).
- If you already have a web-based subscription to the European Journal of Palliative Care you will be able to download this issue, plus all articles in the journal archive. You can also browse the archive and download articles by taking a 10-minute or 30-minute subscription. Members of the EAPC receive discounted subscription rates to the journal – click here to subscribe online.
- Click here to read more about the EAPC Task Force on Collaboration with Africa.
- Click here for more about HealthCare Chaplaincy.
We’ll be turning our attention to Africa again in September when Dr Liz Gwyther will be writing about ‘Palliative Care Research in Southern and Central Africa’.