Thousands of South Africans are diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses every year. Most of them will experience severe pain and won’t have access to cheap and effective pain medication. For those who die, many will do so without the basic human right of dying with dignity and without suffering. Palliative care is an approach to medicine that aims to change this, by improving the quality of life of patients.

Health-e News Service explores the need for palliative care in South Africa through the lives of patients suffering from serious illnesses in the upcoming documentary, “From the Brink of Death”. We meet the family of a child who was only given months to live, a suffering mother diagnosed with cancer and the doctors who are not only trying to save them, but are working towards relieving their suffering and protecting their basic human right to dignity.

“Even if you are going to die or even if you are dying you have to die with dignity, you have to die clean, you have to die free from pains, you have to die next to somebody who has given you support.”- Palliative Care Nurse

Current legislation makes it difficult for people who are poor and live in rural areas to access pain medication such as morphine. This leaves many to suffer unbearable pain as they are stuck using over-the-counter medication.

“My children also cry when they see me this sick. It is very painful. I cannot sleep at night because of the pain. I need help. I feel so much pain.”- Busisiwe, Cancer Patient

Sadly palliative care is almost non-existent in both the public and private health sectors, and it is provided almost exclusively by NGOs in South Africa. Last year more than a quarter of a million South Africans died of AIDS-related illnesses and 15 000 were diagnosed with drug-resistant TB. Cancer cases are expected to double by 2030. With these harrowing statistics in mind, more needs to be done to improve access to palliative care to all South Africans.

Watch “FROM THE BRINK OF DEATH” produced by Fathima Simjee of Health-e News Service. It will be broadcast this Sunday on Special Assignment – on SABC 3 at 20:00PM.