As a health crisis looms in Zambia, one ASEC sister is doing all that she can to affirm dignity to the dying through palliative care - Sr. Mindoza Mambo of the Sisters of Mercy of St. Charles Borromeo, a recipient of the ASEC Scholarship Program.
In Zambia, the need for such care is pronounced given the HIV/AIDS epidemic and general health disparity amongst its people. According to data released by the CDC in December of 2022, 11% of adults 15 years of age and older have HIV. Furthermore, research by the University of Rochester Medical Center found that children with HIV do poorly on neurological assessments and may show signs of mental health or cognitive issues.
Before attending the program, Sr. Mindoza had a secondary education but no professional experience. After receiving an ASEC scholarship for three years to attend the Lusaka Apex Medical University in Zambia. With this support, Sr. Mindoza graduated with a Diploma in Physiotherapy Technology in September 2022.
The road to Sr. Mindoza’s graduation was not easy. Of the 40 students in her class, only 17 students were successfully able to complete the program. Sr. Mindoza put forth great effort to earn her diploma, which will allow her to better serve the most vulnerable in her community.
Since obtaining her degree, Sr. Mindoza now serves terminally and chronically ill patients at the Mother of Mercy Hospice and Health Centre, run by the Sisters of Mercy of St. Charles Borromeo in Chilanga, Zambia. The Centre, opened in 1997, was one of the first hospices established in Zambia. As a physiotherapist, Sr. Mindoza works to provide palliative care to those in need in order to “celebrate the beauty of life and affirm dignity to the dying.”
Palliative care has become a much needed and valued resource in several countries of Africa after gaining traction in Ghana, when impoverished communities struggled with treating life-limiting illnesses and many died isolated and in pain. As one researcher explains:
In low-resource communities in Ghana, the lack of palliative care means that patients with life-limiting illnesses are too often left to die an isolated, painful and undignified death.
As Dr. Yakubu Salifu, who was a registered nurse in both the UK and Ghana for 15 years, wrote in his research:
“The demands of care can result in poor communities in a loss of income, an inability to work, and young children – often girls- withdrawn from school to care, as well as the anguish and anxiety within the home and wider community.”
The value of providing these services to a community is as much about providing relief and dignity to the dying as it is about giving children and young adults the opportunities they need to thrive. If they don’t have someone to help their ailing parent or grandparent, many times that responsibility is left to the children.
When it comes to multidisciplinary palliative care, a physiotherapist is a core member of the team, specifically focusing on the functional dimension of patient suffering including therapeutic exercise, physical therapy, and assistive devices. Despite these needs, major gaps have been identified in the availability of palliative and hospice care in Zambia. After receiving support from the Scholarship Program, Sr. Mindoza is now more equipped to address these needs, and does so at Mother of Mercy Hospice and Health Centre in Zambia.
According to its website:
“The hospice functions as [a] stand-alone unit and provides palliative care (PC) services to the terminally and chronically ill patients and their families within our catchment area of 29,069 population … We are operating in a developing country, in a location where the poorest of the poor live. ”
Aside from palliative care, the health center also offers art clinics, nutritional support, physiotherapy, support groups and more.
In 2002, Mother of Mercy Hospice and Health Centre also opened a day-care center to provide care to children whose parents were undergoing treatment for HIV. Since then, the program has grown into the Guardian Angels Community School, offering free education to vulnerable populations in Zambia.
Sr. Mindoza, who graduated with a diploma in Physiotherapy Technology from Apex Medical University in 2022, continues to provide care for those in need through the medical center. She says,
“I am so grateful to ASEC and all the sponsors behind the Scholarship Program for according me the opportunity to study for a period of three (3) years and obtain a Diploma in Physiotherapy Technology. I can confidently and competently serve the people of God, thank you very much, may the good Lord bless and continue with the same spirit. I encourage the other sisters to work hard and dedicate their knowledge and skills ASEC gives to serve the vulnerable in society.”