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Dr Niamh O’Connor

niamh oconnor

I’m from county Kerry in the southwest of Ireland. I studied medicine and completed all of my medical training including specialist training in Palliative Care in Ireland. I also did a Masters in Medical Ethics and Law- my thesis theme being Justice in Advanced Cancer. Following completion of this I relocated to Australia in 2014 and worked as a Palliative Care Fellow in Barwon Health, Geelong for a year. I am now working as a Palliative Care specialist in The Royal Darwin Hospital. From here we cover all of the Top End rural and remote communities. It constantly amazes me how many similarities there are between remote communities in Australia and those I have worked with in the developing world.

My interest in working and supporting important initiatives in the developing world was sparked when I first travelled to Zimbabwe as a teenager to visit my brother who was working there. In university I was an active committee member on our fundraising project (Surgeon Noonan Project) to send funding and enthusiastic medical students to Africa. Through this project I did my medical elective in Mwanza, Tanzania and was blown away by the enthusiasm of my colleagues despite their hardships. During my training in Palliative Care I had the privilege of working in Hospice Africa Uganda in Kampala with the wondrous Dr. Anne Merriman for 6 months. Her ability to structure palliative care provision to suit its location and her drive to legalise opioids on the continent of Africa is quite incredible. Her work has and will result in comfort for millions.

I remained an active member on the Hospice Africa Ireland Committee from 2007-2014. I was delighted to learn of APLI through Dr.David Brumley and Dr. Rosalee Shaw. I think that we are privileged to live in lands of plenty. The concept of justice is very important to me in my practice. I believe that everyone should have access the care they need despite location or wealth and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to offer support and experience to those who share this goal.

Project Focus

As some of you may be aware, in early 2016 the Asia Pacific Hospice Palliative Care Network (APHN) held four ‘APHN Dialogs’, in which clinicians across the Asia Pacific region could link in through Skype to attend a webinar. The following webinars took place:

- A discussion of palliative care service development in the Asia Pacific region, presented by Odette Spruyt
- Pain control in palliative care by Yoshiyuki Kizawa from Kobe, Japan
- Management of the cancer wound by Edward Poon from Singapore
- Bereavement care by Jun-Hua Lee from Taiwan

These sessions were well received and provided a valuable opportunity for clinicians in different countries to learn from an expert in that field and also to share their own professional experiences. Unfortunately, not all countries in the region have reliable internet coverage or sufficient bandwidth so some attendees were unable to join the meetings. In response to this, in recent months APLI has been looking at a new educational initiative in partnership with APHN.

Project Focus aims to set up online discussion groups between palliative care clinicians in specific countries in the Asia Pacific region and APLI mentors. Some nascent palliative care centres struggle with isolation, limited practitioner experience and variable institutional support. In effect, Project Focus would work towards similar objectives to Project Hamrahi: to improve the capacity for best practice patient care in the local setting and to reduce the isolation of palliative care providers in emergent services.

APLI is therefore calling for expressions of interest for mentors to volunteer their services to help support our regional partners. Project Focus would particularly suit clinicians who might otherwise find it difficult to travel overseas for mentoring work, as the contact will be online using a small group discussion format on the ‘Slack’ communication platform. APHN has already identified local clinicians in two separate services in remote and regional Indonesia who would like to be partnered with APLI mentors. In addition to this, there has also been some interest from doctors in Vietnam, Brunei and Nepal whose learning needs were unable to be supported by the APHN Dialogs.

Although the exact process will be flexible, it is proposed that education would begin with case presentations from the local APHN clinicians. These would then serve as a springboard for the APLI mentors to explain current evidence based practice recommendations. The subsequent discussion would then take into account local factors such as medication availability, local resources, staffing and other factors such that a viable and culturally appropriate management plan can be formulated.

I hope that you will share our excitement for this initiative. Project Hamrahi has demonstrated the value of teams of mentors made up of both doctors and nurses working together with local Indian clinicians over a sustained period of time. Project Focus has the potential to broaden the scope of such partnerships to other countries and so I invite you to contact me via chairman@apli.net.au with a short biography and reflection on why you would wish to work as a mentor.

- Anil Tandon

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Your donations to APLI help in the following ways:

assist with training of doctors and nurses in palliative care practice in developing nations

support nurses to travel and teach as part of Project Hamrahi

help with purchase of critical site resources such as essential equipment and supplies,  medicines and educational materials