Abu Dhabi: UAE gets first representative in WHO’s palliative care network

Every two years, the organisation appoints experts, which comprises regional and international experts



by

Ashwani Kumar

Published: Sat 7 May 2022, 6:54 PM

Last updated: Sat 7 May 2022, 10:17 PM

Abu Dhabi-based British doctor has become the first representative from the UAE in the World Health Organisation (WHO) regional palliative care expert network.

Dr Neil A. Nijhawan, director for palliative care at Burjeel Medical City and head of palliative care at Burjeel Darak Hospice in Abu Dhabi, has been appointed by the WHO as a member of the Eastern Mediterranean Region Expert Network on Palliative Care.

The network, which covers the Mena area, was established in 2019 to develop the region’s palliative care – specialised medical care for people living with life-threatening illness. Every two years, the WHO appoints experts to the network, which comprises regional and international experts and is divided into sub-groups to deliver on different areas of work.

According to the hospital, Dr Nijhawan is also the first palliative care consultant to be licensed in Abu Dhabi. Dr Nijhawan is excited at being the first representative from the UAE in the network.

“The purpose of the network is to raise and improve palliative care awareness in the region. I would like to use this opportunity as a platform for advocacy for palliative care because things need to change at all levels. The appointment will give palliative care specialists a much louder voice in the region,” he told Khaleej Times.

Dr Nijhawan, who has supported around 500 patients in his two-year stint at Burjeel Medical City, said the appointment would arguably give more visibility to palliative care as a specialty in the UAE.

A long-term patient at Burjeel Medical City. Palliative care is specialised medical care for people living with life-threatening illness.
A long-term patient at Burjeel Medical City. Palliative care is specialised medical care for people living with life-threatening illness.

According to a 2019 report by the WHO, the Eastern Mediterranean region has the second-lowest availability of palliative care services and is below the global average. While palliative care in the region is still in the nascent stage, it is showing signs of improvement.

Dr Nijhawan felt there is a growing awareness of the need for palliative care in the country. He noted the authorities are working to advance palliative care services in the UAE. Maintaining patient dignity is an essential aspect of palliative care. It is crucial not only at the end of life but also when patients are undergoing treatments for cancer and other serious illnesses.

A long-term patient on a wheelchair at Burjeel Medical City in Abu Dhabi.
A long-term patient on a wheelchair at Burjeel Medical City in Abu Dhabi.

"Traditionally, many people saw the need for palliative care when the cancer treatment is not working, or the patient is not fit for further anti-cancer treatment. Now, increasingly we get referrals for patients diagnosed with advanced cancer at a much earlier stage, this enables us to help optimise their symptoms and make them feel better,” he said and added that people with other problems like complex pain, advanced dementia, and patients with end-stage organ failure are recognising the benefits of palliative care intervention.

“As good as modern medicine is, it cannot always fix or cure all conditions. In such cases, it is good to get a holistic view of the situation and take a step back to ensure that all the care we are giving is patient-centred and beneficial for the patient. Whatever we do, it is to improve the quality of life of patients and their family.”

Dr Nijhawan is a UK-trained consultant in palliative medicine. After medical school at King’s College London, he pursued speciality training in palliative medicine in London and worked as a consultant in palliative medicine at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, as part of one of the busiest palliative care teams in the UK. He relocated to Abu Dhabi in 2020.

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