With 2020 well underway, what better time to celebrate the amazing achievements of nurses than the year of the nurse! We recently attended the Palliative Care Awards at World Child Cancer supported hospital, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University in Bangladesh. The awards aimed to recognise home based palliative care nurses from hospitals across Bangladesh, who provide home care for terminally ill patients. These awards not only help us to acknowledge the gruelling hard work of these nurses who often go undervalued and unrecognised, but they create a greater awareness of the importance of effective palliative care – for both cancer patients and others. There was also an award category to recognise doctors in palliative care.
A committee made up of palliative care specialists was put together to select the winning nurses and doctors. The committee received nominations based on recommendations from hospital directors or relevant department heads, noting those nurses with outstanding contributions. These recommendations, along with training certificates and experience, the committee finalised the winners.
We caught up with the winner of the Palliative Care Institutional Nurse Award, Rowsan Ara, who works as a Senior Staff Nurse at the Intensive Care Unit of Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital in Dhaka. Rowsan has worked in her position for an incredible 18 years across different hospitals, specialising in palliative care since 2006. She described her duties as:
Rowsan also acts as a trainer of Paediatric Palliative Care Nursing and has recently been assigned to teach nursing students studying for their BSc. She says that she thoroughly enjoys educating and empowering families and other nurses through teaching about palliative care. Building relationships with the patients and their families is what Rowsan finds most enjoyable about her position. But Rowsan’s incredibly tough role is not helped by further issues. She talked of the challenge of having “no separate unit” and “no supply of morphine” in the hospital she works in, making effective care giving and pain relief to patients in need very difficult.
This is a common problem in Bangladesh, due to a lack of awareness around the importance of palliative care. There is also still a common misconception that opioids should not be used to treat patients, out of fear of addiction. With local partners, we are working to change this for the better. We are developing a much-needed paediatric palliative care service, including the provision of morphine tablets and syrup and the establishing of separate paediatric palliative care units in the hospitals we work in. We have also organised essential training workshops and seminars across Bangladesh to educate healthcare professionals about the importance of effective palliative care, pain management and how to provide the support families need when making decisions about their child’s illness.
Palliative care, like that which nurse Rowsan provides, is essential to children with life threatening cancers. Rowsan’s achievement of winning the Palliative Care Institutional Nurse Award is the important recognition she deserves; however, she understands that there are still lots of existing issues within the infrastructure of medical care across Bangladesh that need to be changed. With your support, we are working to get closer to a world where children, no matter where they’re from or who they are, have access to quality cancer care throughout all stages of their cancer treatment.