State government comes up with palliative care policy

The Maharashtra public health department has come up with a policy for providing palliative care to people who suffer from life-limiting diseases such as HIV, cancer, blood disorders, some respiratory conditions, besides elderly citizens. Palliative care primarily aims at reducing pain in patients.

In November, the Centre had announced Rs 636 crore for a National Palliative Policy for the country.

For the past few months, the palliative care unit at Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) had been collaborating with the state government to draw up a draft policy.

"The level of palliative care in the state is quite low and people first need to be sensitised to the need of palliative treatment. At TMH, 70 per cent of patients come from outside the state making a strong infrastructure important. Apart from availability of essential medicines, phsycological and emotional support for patients is equally important," said Dr Maryann Muckaden, HOD of palliative care at TMH.

There are barely five palliative care units in Mumbai, the busiest being the one at TMH which gets over 3,000 adult and 300 children a year. The other units are mostly hospices. Estimates show that only 3 per cent of needy patients actually receive palliative care.

As per the state-drafted policy, nurses and medical officers at all primary health centres will undergo a month-long training in palliative care. Medicines, most specifically morphine, are to be made easily available at nominal rates at all medical centres. The policy also looks at increasing awareness on palliative care as a field of medicine by introducing it in the medical college syllabi. A separate section on palliatives for children has been included in the policy.

For building palliative infrastructure, funds will be disbursed by the state via the National Rural Health Mission.

The state public health department said the charted policy looks at introducing palliative care as a full-fledged aspect of the medical field in Maharashtra. "Last year, there were sporadic efforts to introduce palliatives in two talukas in Thane and Igatpuri. This time, we want a full-fledged approach for which efforts need to be community and society based as well. Staff that provide care need to be both physically and mentally trained," said a public health department official.

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