Defining the role of palliative care in both the private and government healthcare sectors.

AT the 11th Malaysian Hospice Congress held in Seremban last month, academicians, clinicians, policy makers and other allied healthcare professionals attended workshops, plenary lectures and symposiums on a wide range of topics addressing issues concerning the future development of palliative care in Malaysia.

Simultaneously, in conjunction with a national palliative care awareness campaign and the launch of a new national symbol for palliative care, Hospis Malaysia campaigned for standardisation in palliative care services across the country.

In his opening speech, the newly-elected chairman of the Malaysia Hospice Council, Dr Richard Lim Boon Leong, who is also the national advisor for palliative medicine with the Health Ministry, envisioned new opportunities for the private and government sectors to partner with each other to enhance the provision of palliative care nationwide.

Datuk Dr Ranjit Mathew Oomen, medical consultant for Palliative Care Association of Kota Kinabalu, highlighted in his keynote address the need for further development at the community level.

He emphasised that there should be balanced delivery of palliative care between government and private healthcare providers.

Dr Ghauri Aggarwal, head of the Palliative Care Department of Concord Hospital, Sydney, Australia, addressed how evidence-based medicine can help in palliative care where compassion is typically at the core of its care goals.

She spoke about “measuring success in palliative care” and pointed out that measuring outcomes is a way to determine the efficacy of a particular pathway of care.

According to her, it provides material for research and auditing purposes, and most importantly, can be used to improve the quality of healthcare services.

“Many services form and develop, but they do not look to the standard of care that they provide, and answerability is not always incorporated into routine clinical practice,” she said.

In his plenary session on “Controversies in palliative care”, Dr Ednin Hamzah, CEO/medical director of Hospis Malaysia, argued that palliative care challenges the boundaries of medicine and ethics.

He asked: “Is palliative care a medical sub-specialty or simply an approach to care that should be adopted by all healthcare professionals?”

Dr Ednin Hamzah: ‘Is palliative care a medical sub-specialty or simply an approach to care that should be adopted by all healthcare professionals?’

According to Dr Ednin, palliative care brings up fundamental questions as to how we care for ourselves, and begs the question of the clinicians: “Should you treat the patient the same way as if you would treat your loved one?”

.Debunking possibly the most common myth surrounding palliative care – that it is only for people with cancer – the congress offered symposiums on non-cancer related palliative care, such as palliative care in neurological diseases, cardiac palliative care and respiratory palliative care.

It also included a symposium on paediatric palliative care, debunking another myth that palliative care is only for old people.

A palliative care-themed photography exhibition was set up to provide congress delegates an insight on the impact of such an exhibition and how awareness can be spread to the public.

The exhibition, an initiative by Hospis Malaysia, was first featured in April at Publika, Mont Kiara in Kuala Lumpur, in conjunction with the launch of the new palliative care symbol officiated by Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam.

The symbol was developed to form a unified icon for palliative care and to standardise what it stands for.

The delegates also signed a pledge supporting:

1. Better access to quality palliative care.

2. Meeting international standards of care.

3. Integrating palliative care into general and specialist training.

4. The development of partnerships between public and private healthcare providers.

Attendees at the congress were inspired to host similar public awareness exhibitions in their communities across the country.

The aim of these exhibitions is to collect sufficient pledges to support a call to policymakers to enact legislation to set minimum standards for palliative care service provision in the country and to take on the responsibility of ensuring quality palliative care is accessible for all Malaysians in need.

To find out more about palliative care and to sign the pledge, please visit