“We never speak about death.” Healthcare professionals' views on palliative care for inpatients in Tanzania: A qualitative study

A. Grace Lewis, Lloyd L. Oates, Jane Rogathi, Ashanti Duinmaijer, Aisa Shayo, Simon Megiroo, Barthlomew Bakari, Felicity Dewhurst, Richard W. Walker, Matt Dewhurst and Sarah Urasa
Publication year: 

Little is known about the current views and practices of healthcare professionals (HCPs) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) regarding delivery of hospital palliative care. The present qualitative study explored the views of nursing staff and medical professionals on providing palliative and end-of-life care (EoLC) to hospital inpatients in Tanzania.

Focus group discussions were conducted with a purposive sample of HCPs working on the medical and pediatric wards of the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre, a tertiary referral hospital in northern Tanzania. Transcriptions were coded using a thematic approach.

In total, 32 healthcare workers were interviewed via 7 focus group discussions and 1 semistructured interview. Four major themes were identified. First, HCPs held strong views on what factors were important to enable individuals with a life-limiting diagnosis to live and die well. Arriving at a state of “acceptance” was the ultimate goal; however, they acknowledged that they often fell short of achieving this for inpatients. Thus, the second theme involved identifying the “barriers” to delivering palliative care in hospital. Another important factor identified was difficulty with complex communications, particularly “breaking bad news,” the third theme. Fourth, participants were divided about their personal preferences for “place of EoLC,” but all emphasized the benefits of the hospital setting so as to enable better symptom control.

Despite the fact that all the HCPs interviewed were regularly involved in providing palliative and EoLC, they had received limited formal training in its provision, although they identified such training as a universal requirement. This training gap is likely to be present across much of SSA. Palliative care training, particularly in terms of communication skills, should be comprehensively integrated within undergraduate and postgraduate education. Research is needed to develop culturally appropriate curricula to equip HCPs to manage the complex communication challenges that occur in caring for a diverse inpatient group with palliative care needs.