Understanding Models of Palliative Care Delivery in Sub-Saharan Africa: Learning From Programs in Kenya and Malawi

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2015 Sep;50(3):362-70. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2015.03.017. Epub 2015 Apr 30.


The need for palliative care has never been greater. From being significantly present in only five African countries in 2004, palliative care is now delivered in nearly 50% of African countries; however, less than 5% of people in need receive it. To scale-up palliative care, we need greater knowledge about how different models of palliative care work within different health systems. A case study evaluation was undertaken in Kenya and Malawi to define the models used, contextualize them, and identify challenges, best practices, and transferable lessons for scale-up. Visits were made to seven sites and, using an audit tool, data were collected from program staff, hospital staff, and local stakeholders, and care observed as appropriate. Three models of palliative care service delivery were identified, which supports the existing literature, that is, specialist, district hospital level, and community level. However, in looking further, findings show that the major determinants for each model were a set of philosophical questions and assumptions underpinning each and influencing staff and patient decision-making, planning, and allocation of resources. The health system structure and the beliefs about palliative care determined, and were determined most by, referrals, the patient journey, the centeredness of the model, and role definition and training. The models are also closely associated with the physical setting of services. Understanding how the services have developed because of, and indeed despite the geographical setting and the system level, provides us with a different set of indicators of program structure incorporated into the three models. The analysis of models provides pointers to future planning for palliative care.

Keywords: Sub-Saharan Africa; models of care; palliative care; service delivery.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Community Health Centers
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Kenya
  • Malawi
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Specialization