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Emma takes her skills to Uganda in volunteer project

ST Luke's Staff Nurse Emma Matthews is taking her nursing skills and experience of working in end of life care to Uganda as she volunteers with international charity Hospice Africa.

Launched in 1992, Hospice Africa was established with the vision of offering palliative care for all those in need in African countries, with Uganda identified as the best host for a centre of excellence.

When she heard about the work being done by the charity’s team of nurses, 33-year-old Emma, decided she wanted to volunteer her skills.

And with the support of St Luke’s, Emma is spending more than seven weeks in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, taking her nursing experience into the wider community.

“One of the things that has always motivated me the most about my career is other nurses,” Emma said.

“I have found a lot of comfort in what my colleagues are doing and I have always found inspiration in the nursing world and seek out inspirational nurses wherever I go, meeting many people who are making a positive impact on society.

“As part of that, I have always wondered what nursing is like in different places.

“I know what it means to be a nurse at St Luke’s or in Sheffield or London, where I have worked as well, but what is it like in the rest of the world?”

As part of Nursing Voices, a pandemic project she had been working on with NHS England, Emma had heard the story of a nurse who had worked in the West African country Sierra Leone at the height of an Ebola outbreak.

Doing further research, Emma then came across Hospice Africa and decided to volunteer.

“To me, it’s about spreading the best palliative care practices and sharing the experiences I have learnt at my time with St Luke’s,” she said.

The plan for Hospice Africa has always involved developing a model of culturally acceptable and affordable palliative care that can be replicated and adapted through multiple organisations across the African continent.

In Uganda, palliative care is taken out into the community, where it is needed most - much like the support given by our Community team throughout Sheffield.

The mission is to provide a holistic and culturally sensitive palliative care service, opening the door to pain control through accurate treatment of pain and the introduction of affordable oral morphine, taken in the home on a regular basis by the patients themselves, closely monitored and recorded by the Hospice Africa team.

As a result, although only about 10 per cent of patients in need are accessing palliative care in Uganda, the World Health Organisation and the World Palliative Care Alliance have recognised the country as among the countries having the highest palliative care level in the world.

“All I know at the moment is that my time in Uganda will be very different to life at St Luke’s,” said Emma.

“I’m going to be going out in the community with Hospice Africa, working alongside their nurses and I am excited to find out exactly what that means.

“From my research, I think there will be a lot of cancer - in Uganda, access to treatment is much more limited so people’s cancers are going to be much more advanced by the time they receive Hospice Africa support and I imagine there will be a lot of pain relief and management.

“There’s a real shortage of doctors in Uganda so the service is much more dependant on nurses.

“I don’t want to be an observer - I want to be involved and sharing what I know and while I think I will probably learn more from them, I do hope it will be a real knowledge exchange.

“Hopefully too I’ll be creating a stronger relationship between St Luke’s and Hospice Africa for the future.”

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