A recent report by the Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa revealed that funding for South African hospices has decreased dramatically in 2013, following a withdrawal of US funding. Hospices provide an invaluable support service to the overburdened healthcare system of South Africa and as a result, it’s imperative that hospices are not only adequately funded but also given the recognition for the work that they do.

According to The Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa, the US is the single biggest HIV/AIDS donor to South Africa, providing $3.2 billion since 2003. However, this annual funding to South Africa is expected to fall to $250 million by 2017 – roughly half the $484 million budgeted for 2012 and despite outside corporate funding, the association says they will be unable to secure sufficient donor support locally to make up the budget shortfall.

Graham Anderson, Principal Officer at Profmed, the medical scheme that caters exclusively for graduate professionals, says with the government currently embarking on an overhaul of the healthcare sector in South Africa via the National Health Insurance initiative, it is crucial that hospices remain top of mind as they provide much needed support to the healthcare industry.

“Our healthcare system is undergoing one of the biggest changes in its history and this provides a perfect opportunity to bring hospices further into the framework by setting up formal relationships between hospitals and hospices and providing increased training for the home-based carers that hospices provide to families.”

Anderson says the issue of funding poses a significant challenge for hospices around the world, but has particular significance in South Africa. “While they provide an essential service all over the world, hospices are particularly important in a country such as South Africa where the traditional healthcare system is simply unable to deal with the number of people requiring care due to the high prevalence of diseases such as HIV and AIDS,” he says.

According to Anderson, hospices are a crucial part of the South Africa healthcare industry, as they provide palliative care – the relieving and prevention of suffering – to terminally ill patients compared with the acute care – active but short-term treatment – that is provided by acute hospitals.

However, he says that as a result of the reduction in funding for hospices, very few people in need of such a service will ever gain access to it. He points to a report on Palliative Care published by the Democratic Alliance in 2009, which estimated that a maximum of 5% of people who die from terminal illnesses in South Africa have access to adequate palliative care.

“It should be remembered that hospices are not just buildings that provide somewhere for the terminally ill to stay in their last days; they also provide care and support to people in their own homes by sending out nurses who visit patients and their families to ensure any medication is being taken and that the family is coping. However, the resources they have to provide are already stretched.”

He says that as there are no state-funded hospices, these institutions rely solely on grants and donations to continue the work that they do. “While the government does provide some level of funding, this is nowhere near sufficient to enable them to meet the needs of everyone who would require this kind of service and it is an issue that should be urgently addressed.”

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