BMJ Support Palliat Care 1:118-122 doi:10.1136/bmjspcare-2011-000057
  • Features

Palliative care in Africa since 2005: good progress, but much further to go

  1. Scott A Murray1
  1. 1Primary Palliative Care Research Group, Centre for Population Health Sciences: General Practice Section, The University of Edinburgh Medical School, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2Palliative Care Unit, Mulago Hospital and Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
  1. Correspondence to Dr Liz Grant, Primary Palliative Care Research Group, Centre for Population Health Sciences: General Practice Section, The University of Edinburgh Medical School, Doorway 3, Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh EH8 9AG, UK; liz.grant{at}
  1. Contributors LG, EN, ML and SAM carried out the reported fieldwork. All authors drafted the paper and approved the final version. LG is the guarantor.


There has been rapid progress in palliative care in Africa since the World Health Assembly in 2005 which identified palliative care as an urgent humanitarian need. Palliative care is now recognised as a basic human right, and momentum has gathered to translate this into action. From being significantly present in only five countries in 2004, palliative care is now delivered in nearly 50% of African countries. Even so, still less than 5% of people in need currently receive it, and with an estimated 300% increase in the need for palliative care for people with non-communicable diseases over the next 20 years, and with those living with HIV needing more prolonged support, the demand for palliative care will continue to outpace supply. African countries adopting a public health approach and networking together through palliative care associations are beginning to embed and integrate palliative care into health systems and communities. Current challenges are to increase coverage while maintaining quality, to develop dynamic and flexible responses to the changing illness patterns in Africa, and to counter false beliefs. Resourcefulness and harnessing new technologies such as mobile phones while respecting cultural traditions, may be the way forward. The authors review recent progress in policy, service provision and training initiatives in Africa, illustrate the current situation at grass roots level from a recent evaluation of programmes in Kenya, Malawi and Uganda, analyse the current urgent challenges and suggest some ways ahead.


  • Funding This work was supported by The Diana Princess of Wales Palliative Care Initiative.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Accepted 28 May 2011.
  • Published Online First 6 August 2011

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