Rohan let out frequent shrieks of pain, his eyes fixed on the ceiling with teardrops rolling down on the pillow. Curtains were drawn, lights switched off. The ceiling fan was on full speed and his mother was rubbing his arms and legs, waiting for the morphine to kick in.
This was the third time since June 11 that the teenager was brought to the palliative care unit of ASHIC, a non-profit focusing on childhood cancer since 1994, in the capital’s Dhanmondi.
Doctors at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University had referred the 14-year-old to this facility, having seen no response to chemotherapy and other curative treatment.
ASHIC sent its ambulance to the hospital to bring the child to its palliative care facility, a service provided under a recently launched scheme -- “Mobile Palliative Care Clinic”. In short, ASHIC calls it Mobile PCC.
A cure is not possible in the case of Rohan but it is necessary for his parents to understand that the time he has left can be more peaceful than if he were left uncared for, said Salma Choudhury, founder chairperson of ASHIC (A Shelter for Helpless Ill Children).
The organisation has been using a grant of $50,000 from a US technology company for instilling the philosophy of palliative care in parents, doctors and others who may play a significant role in the treatment of terminally-ill children.
With the fund from NVIDIA Foundation, ASHIC bought the ambulance to provide transportation services to patients inside the capital for free.
In the last two weeks, Rohan went home in Mirpur twice only to be brought back within days to ASHIC’s palliative unit. Like him, other children are shuttled between home and the facility considering their health condition and at the same time accommodating their wishes. They are also transported from hospitals.
The service is available round the clock.
Awareness campaigns are, however, organised outside the city -- at upazila-level with support from upazila health complexes, private hospitals and district-level hospitals. The scheme, launched in May, is also aimed at training doctors and nurses in palliative care for children suffering from cancer.
ASHIC takes along specialised doctors, even bereaved parents, from Dhaka to hold workshops and campaigns at the local level to communicate the message that all children, including those who may have a short life ahead, deserve love and care.
And when a child passes away during his/her journey with ASHIC, it takes them to the last rites -- to where the family would bury them.
ASHIC wants to expand the services, going beyond the city to reach every child with cancer so that they have access to a quality life, no matter how short. The fund is estimated to support 600 children for the next two years.
The organisation requests affluent people of the country to come forward and help continue and broaden the coverage of the services.
One day, mothers from remotest corners of the country may be able to avail the support from ASHIC as Rohan’s mother does.
She wants to spend time with her only son away from home, away from all distractions, said Kamrunnaher Lovely on July 4. The mother was still rubbing Rohan’s hands in the sunlight sneaking into the room.
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