We are into our second year living with COVID-19 and all the implications it has had on our lives, our families and our work. As an organisation we have experienced the loss of friends and colleagues and have seen the impact that the restrictions and fear of COVID-19 brings has had on the children we work with. However, that is not the only way we have been affected. As a completely donor-funded organisation, these times have seriously reduced our income and the possibility of fundraising events are slim. Without regular income we cannot continue the invaluable work that we are doing. Thank you to all of you who are donating – we so appreciate you and your continued support.
As a NGO we, like many others, fundraise for our salaries, operating costs and the like. We as Umduduzi are providing a service to Government that without us would not happen. In 2014, the World Health Assembly ratified a policy on palliative care. As a member State of the World Health Organisation, South Africa is obligated to institute this. In 2017, the National Policy Framework & Strategy on Palliative Care was released by the Department of Health. This outlined plans until 2022. As of now this has yet to be implemented. NGOs, like us, are continuing to provide the service, to the benefit of Government, with no support financially or in terms of capacity. To date there are no State funded palliative care posts, there is no funding to palliative care organisations and yet the work continues.
Umduduzi is the only organisation of its type in KwaZulu-Natal. Without our work within the State Hospitals, children with life-limiting and life-threatening illnesses would not receive palliative care. A conservative estimate is that over a million children in South Africa require some form of palliative care every year. As one of the provinces with the highest number of children it is overwhelming.
But we are not deterred! We continue the work while trying to come up with unique fundraising strategies at night. Together with like-minded people from around the country we spend hours advocating for the recognition of palliative care as a speciality within South Africa and for the implementation of the National Policy. Again all after hours. We are committed to our patients and our cause. Hopefully somewhere within this new reality we will find a way to raise the much needed funds to continue our work ensuring that all those children requiring palliative care and their families receive it.
Despite the restrictions COVID-19 has brought to so many people’s lives, our numbers continue to increase. To date we have over 250 new patients – that is excluding all those from previous years that we are still providing care and support to. We believe in what we are doing and will continue to find a way to ensure that it continues. A luta continua!
Jun 1, 2021
Increase Paediatric Palliative Care in KZN, SA
By Tracey Brand - Director
I can’t believe that this will be the 20th report I have submitted. It has been so wonderful sharing our stories with you and to give you a glimpse into what we are trying to achieve in KZN.
Our service continues to get busy and this has become more demanding due to capacity. We average 5 new referrals a week in addition to the children we are already seeing and these are spread over 9 hospitals in the greater Durban Functional Region. A large area to cover, with high demands and only 3 clinical staff of which only 1 is fulltime. But we get the work done and the lives that we get to be a part of benefit greatly.
The reality of COVID-19 and its impact is starting to become more obvious. I would like to tell yo about TS. TS was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) in 2019. AML is the more difficult leukaemia to treat and if we are able to get the person into remission the only way to ensure that they do not relapse is a bone marrow transplant. Acquiring matches in South Africa is incredibly difficult especially for our Black African population. This is mainly due to the fact that there are not a lot of Black Africans on the Bone Marrow Registry. We therefore rely on direct blood relatives but it is not always a given that they will be a match.
TS commenced her treatment in 2019. She had her induction chemotherapy and then her consolidation and maintenance and was incredibly fortunate to get into remission. Added to this her younger brother was a perfect match for her transplant. All the arrangements were made for her, her brother and mother to go to Cape Town (where the transplants are conducted). Flights had been sponsored and her mom had been given accommodation at CHOC House in Cape Town. There was great excitement because this was a success story we don’t often get to see. Majority of children with AML are referred to palliative care from the start because cure is so hard to achieve.
The date was set and then lockdown happened. They were due to fly in April 2020 and South Africa went into hard lockdown on 26th March 2020. TS and her family were unable to leave. In order to try and keep her in remission until things became “normal” her chemotherapy was continued. Unfortunately, in January 2021 she relapsed. TS and her family were devastated as were the treating team and the palliative care team. As the palliative care team we had to explain to TS what has happened, what the plan is now and what we are hoping to achieve. TS is now 11 years old and exceptionally bright. She expressed her fear of dying, managing the chemo again and something that really haunted her was losing her hair. We have walked with her through all of these concerns.
The plan is to restart the chemotherapy from the beginning with some stronger drugs. TS has been very sick from some of these and is spending a lot of time in hospital. The palliative care team is providing support to her and her mom (who unfortunately cannot be with her in hospital). The hope is that we will get her into remission again and that we can get them to Cape Town and get the transplant done. This is incredibly difficult but the treating team are doing all that they can and we are there providing whatever support TS, her family and the team need.
The reality is that without COVID, without lockdown TS would probably be 100% better, back at school and living her life. TS is one of many children with varying diagnoses that have been impacted on by COVID-19. Due to this we as a team are seeing children who should never have been terminal but never got their chance to access cure.
Feb 3, 2021
Increase Paediatric Palliative Care in KZN, SA
By Tracey Brand - Director
A new year has began and it is still as strange as 2020. I don't think anyone of us would have believed we would still be living in the time of a pandemic that has changed everything we do. Our work however continues and as the number of COVID positive cases increase we are seeing more and more people we know and love succumb - colleagues and friends. It truly is a daunting time and we continue to serve our patients as we have always done just with s few additional items like PPE.
Despite this crazy time I wouldl like to tell you a positive story about Baby S – positiviely negotiating the health system. We first met this precious chap when he was admitted to hospital with severe pneumonia requiring oxygen. He was 11 months old. His life had already been really difficult with numerous admissions and no real underlying diagnosis. His doctors were worried about the long term.
His journey started with a difficult birth resulting in a 6-day hospital stay. His swallowing was never great and he just didn’t grow well. At the age of 2 months he was admitted again with an airway obstruction. The infections recurred and referrals to specialists continued.
Despite all the setbacks and mom being counselled that he might not survive on more than one occasion, Baby S will be 2 years old next month. He is a happy little boy and the light of his mother’s life.
This family are not on a medical aid but the child has received the best possible care in the state sector. His mother is relentless in her energy arriving to every appointment on time and enthusiastic. His medical team is made up of everyone you can think of!
Speech and language therapist
Ears, nose and throat specialists
Palliative care team
And of course the countless nurses who have provided love and care at every clinic and hospital admission.
No one really knows exactly what Baby S has, but he now has a PEG (feeding tube directly into his stomach) for feeding and has started to grow and gain weight. Our role in his journey has largely been to hold his mother’s hand as she navigates their way to find the balance between the stress of hospital as a special needs parent and the joy of being Mum to this beautiful little boy.
We are grateful to still be able to be a part of these families lives despite the madness that is going on around us. Thank you all for your continued support. I hope you all keep safe until we next meet.