Rev Clive Doubleday, Chief Executive of Smile International, reports on a conference held earlier this year by Smile International in Kosova.
Our 4th Balkan palliative care conference on 4-5 April 2013 was the most successful to date with more than 75 delegates attending for two days of training at the Smile Centre in Gjakovë. Delegates came from all over Kosova including Peja, Prizren, Deçan, Gjakovë, Prishtina and Rahovec, some persevering for more than three hours through torrential rain and floods to get to the centre.
Smile International has been working in Kosova since 1999 when a 17-ton truck full of humanitarian aid was sent for needy widows and children as a response to the war in Kosova. In June 2011, Smile International established the only palliative care service in Kosova and currently employs a doctor and two nurses to make home visits to terminally ill patients in the region surrounding Gjakovë. Smile International has also worked in neighbouring Albania since 2001, mostly by partnering with other charities and more recently with Dr Albert Leka at the Palliative Care and Education Centre (PCEC).
The focus of this year’s conference was on oncology, recognising cancer symptoms, and with a particular emphasis on lung cancer. Dr Albert Leka, Dr Arti Tare and Dr Ndrec Ndreca came from PCEC in Albania to share their knowledge and experience with delegates. Dr Blerta Zeka, who headed up Smile International’s palliative care work in June 2011 and who is now undertaking further studies at Prishtina University Hospital, also led sessions. Group sessions took place where doctors and nurses from different regions were able to share their experiences and their current needs.
The conference identified four major areas for the development of palliative care provision in Kosova:
- The need for improved access to opioids in order to administer appropriate pain relief and pain management. Those with terminal illnesses suffer unnecessarily due to limited government and Ministry of Health resources.
- The need for improved access to and availability of proper diagnostic equipment and screening procedures for those with suspected cancer-related illnesses.
- The need for a residential hospice or respite care facility in Kosova. The conference highlighted this in particular due to the limited hospice or respite care in Kosova, Albania and Montenegro. In some situations 24/7 pain management is not possible in patients’ homes and some families do not have sufficient finances or proper carer arrangements to administer end-of-life care. Providing a hospice or respite care facility will help to give families and patients the support they need.
- The need to have palliative care training courses accredited by Prishtina University and supported by the Ministry of Health.
We were pleased that two of Smile International’s newly appointed Palliative Care Council of Reference members were able to attend the conference: Professor Merita Berisha (Chief of Mother and Child Health Observatory Department of Social Medicine, National Institute of Public Health of Kosova, Head of PhD Studies, Head of Preventive Cathedra, Medical Faculty, University of Prishtina); and Dr Mary Packer who has a vast knowledge and experience of the need for palliative care in Kosova, and is co-author of ‘Female Genital Cancer in Kosovo’ (Knowles S and Packer M, 2008).
A local TV news station (Syri TV) helped to raise awareness of the conference in Kosova by featuring interviews with Professor Merita Berisha, Dr Albert Leka, Dr Blerta Zeka and me, as founder of Smile International. These interviews were broadcast throughout the duration of the conference.
One conference delegate said:
“I was lucky enough to participate in the latest Smile International palliative care conference. Many delegates expressed a concern that terminal illnesses in Kosova are not diagnosed early enough meaning that palliative care is very necessary. We were of the opinion that there is a huge store of knowledge that can improve the quality of life of the terminally ill in the world; the challenge is to apply this knowledge in daily clinical practice. The conference was a great encouragement for each delegate who takes initiative for an action for genuine development of palliative care. A very interesting topic was the issue of opioid use in treating symptoms like pain. The conference emphasised the need for a Hospice in Kosova.” (Translation).
Our 4th Balkan palliative care conference was a great success, and we are looking forward to another in October 2013. It is our hope that the provision of palliative care in Kosova will continue to develop through these training conferences and Smile International’s own work.
To find out more…
- Click here for information on our palliative care work in Kosova – with soundtrack in English.
- For information on the work of Smile International.
- Click here to read other EAPC posts on palliative care in Albania.
- Temel, JS, Greer, JA et al. Early Palliative Care for Patients with Metastatic Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer. The New England Journal of Medicine 2010; 363:733-42.