A palliative care centre has opened at St Mary’€™s Hospital in Mariannhill, KwaZulu-Natal to offer those at the end of their lives a place to die in relative peace, in clean sheets with access to pain relief, oxygen and sympathetic care-givers.

Most patients in the two 10-bed wards are dying of AIDS related illnesses. Yet the patient profiles in the men’€™s and women’€™s wards are remarkably different ‘€“ and a chilling reminder of how HIV/AIDS is killing women at a very early age.

In the women’€™s ward, five of the six patients are in their thirties. Two patients had died within the past 24 hours. In the men’€™s ward, the 10 patients are all grey haired and significantly older.

The idea for wards that offer palliative care took three years ‘€“ and lots of fundraising, mainly through the local Rotary club ‘€“ to become a reality.

“St Mary’€™s is struggling to deal with the impact of HIV/AIDS,” said superintendent Dr Douglas Ross at the launch of the palliative care centre this week (25 Feb).

“Some of the ill and the dying have such poor home circumstances that it is inappropriate to refer them to home-based care.

“We had large numbers of terminal patients needing care in amongst patients in the acute and surgical wards, and this was also inappropriate, so the idea of the palliative care centre was born.

“The centre aims to provide care for patients when their disease is not responsive to curative treatment. Emphasis is on the control of pain and other symptoms and to offer psychological, social and spiritual support,” said Ross.

The local Rotary club was approached for assistance and it ran with the idea, drawing in 10 Rotary clubs on three continents to raise R1,6-million.

The wards are run by community volunteers who have been trained in home-based care ‘€“ thus ensuring that nurses are not overburdened. The volunteers have the time to read to patients, feed them and even assist them tie up the lose ends of their lives, such as  drawing up their wills.

Ross said the hospital hoped that these volunteers would eventually be trained as nurses “but this takes money, so that’€™s the next fundraising project”.