Singapore’s president took time out from meetings during a state visit to Indonesia this week to visit a hospital and observe the collaborative efforts of Indonesian and Singaporean health workers who are helping to ease the suffering of terminally ill children.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam, a patron of the non-profit Singapore International Foundation, stopped by a children’s care ward at Dharmais Cancer Hospital in West Jakarta on Thursday. The foundation has assisted local organization Rachel House in setting up the first palliative care unit in Indonesia at Dharmais Hospital.
Tan, who was accompanied by his wife Mary Chee Bee Kiang, brought gifts to the children and was natural in interacting with them, according to SIF’s executive director Jean Tan.
“The president was quite moved. He visited the kids in the wards and gave them bags of chocolate and teddy bears. They were excited,” Jean Tan told the Jakarta Globe in an interview on Thursday.
SIF established its volunteer program in 2009 to encourage Singaporean health workers with expertise in palliative care to share their knowledge with counterparts in Jakarta at the request of Lynna Chandra, the founder of Rachel House, which provides end-of-life care for children with life-threatening conditions, such as cancer and HIV.
“Until now, palliative care was not a focus for Indonesia. As soon as the patient appears to not respond to treatment, the patient is discharged. I realized there were absolutely no trained palliative care nurses here [in 2009] so we turned to Singapore for help,” Chandra said.
In the past three years about 16 doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers trained in palliative care have been involved in the program. They visited Jakarta from Singapore to provide training to Indonesian health-care professionals on how to relieve suffering in all areas of a terminally ill patient’s life through measures such as counseling, at-home care, medication control, wound treatment and the integration and support of family members into patient care plans.
SIF’s final training visit is taking place this week, with a multidisciplinary team of four specialists running seminars and visiting hospitals and the homes of sick children in Jakarta.
Tay Hsu Chern, SIF’s assistant manager of corporate communications, said that those involved in the volunteer program often told her that working in Indonesia helped them gain important clinical experience.
“Here they walk into some of the most difficult cases. That challenges them on a clinical basis and enlarges their own practices and awareness that they feel they don’t get in Singapore because they don’t see that kind of presentation of symptoms.”
In Indonesia many health workers from both the public and private sector wanted to develop their skills in the area of palliative care, according to Chandra.
“There is incredible enthusiasm from health workers to want to learn this, so they can stop feeling helpless in situations of terminal illness,” she said.
Chandra added that diagnosis of life-threatening diseases was often not made early enough, especially for children from poor backgrounds.
“You make an effort to take your child to the nearest clinic and the doctor says, ‘there’s nothing wrong with them, give them some Panadol and take them home.’ It will be quite a long time before you take a child back to the clinic.”