16 March 2023

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Pioneering Nurse Stella reaches new heights

Two years after being named as one of St Christopher’s 30 Pioneering Nurses, Stella Mwari Rithara, has recently been accepted onto the board of the prestigious International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC).

We took the opportunity to catch up with a surprised but proud Stella as she reflects on this achievement and shares her ambitious plans for further extending quality end of life care in her native Kenya.

Stella Mwari Rithara

How did your appointment to the IAHPC board happen?

“To be honest it came as a huge surprise. I was at the Palliative Care Fellowship masterclass in Kerala, India, when I received the email to say I had been nominated. I don’t know how it happened, but I am so grateful. This is my proudest moment as a nurse to be recognised in this way.

“I have been a member of the association since 2007 and have received a number of scholarships to present my work in Kenya around the world and I also use my membership to keep abreast of all their new research.”

What do you hope to bring to the IAHPC board?

“I have big dreams and there are several things I would like to do. It’s still early days so I haven’t had a chance to understand the role they would like me to perform, but I know I would like to promote the concept of Compassionate Communities, helping to take palliative care to places where it is not currently reaching and helping people to own the care themselves. I would also like to encourage more people to become members of the association so they too can access the many journals and research available and promote palliative care throughout the world. When we are many, we are stronger, and more people hear our message.” It IS

When we last spoke to you, The Organization of Ongata Ngong Palliative Care Community you founded to take end of life care to the Masai, had three nurses, a social worker, a clinical officer, a counsellor, two pastors and about 35 volunteers working in three communities – is that still the case, or have things changed?

“Since then we’ve received a grant from Hospice Care Kenya to give the volunteers palliative care training, but because of the severe droughts we’ve had they have not been able to be very active. Their impact is though still being felt as the knowledge they have been able to share with households means those people now have that knowledge and are aware of the care available.

“I have really noticed a change in attitudes to death and dying. More people in these communities now understand about quality of life and are prepared to receive someone at home who is at the end of life. Also, people have come to understand that it’s not just about dealing with the physical pain but being with someone at the end of life and about their holistic care. That involves families members and the whole community owning patients’ care and supporting them and people are really appreciating this now.”

What further pioneering plans do you have for your project for 2023?

“Our plan is train and empower volunteers in 24 more locations across the entire Kajiado west Sub-county, so we can give palliative care to as many people as possible in the area.

“Having been teaching nurses in Kenya Medical Training College, Nairobi for ten years now, I also want to do an audit of those hundreds of nurses. I want to find out if they are just working in hospitals and hospices or whether they too have spread their wings and are going out into their communities. That is how I will find out the true impact of my work.”

Back in 2020 you told us that your mantra was ‘to have a heart for those you care for’? Is that the still the same?

“I think I have to come to appreciate that palliative care and I cannot be separated. I work five days a week, Monday to Friday, teaching. But I will always make time to do my community work too. No matter how tired I am if I get home and someone contacts me in the community needing something, I will create time to do it. I always have to go to the person in need and give them quality care.”

How has the St Christopher’s Pioneering Nurses programme helped you?

Together, Pioneering Nurses, the Fellowship and the Lantern Model Programme have enriched my knowledge and skills and really positively impacted my teaching and community work. I’ve also had the opportunity to network with nurses from all over the world and understand that we’re all trying to take care of patients at the end of life the best we can, we’re all reading from the same script. It cuts across languages and cultures and shows the world is so small. By bringing us all together we can make a better world to live in. It has opened up the world for me and I can now see beyond the community in which I work and see others doing the same thing in different countries.”

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