African hospice leader tours local partner

The Community Hospice, which serves seven counties in the Capital District, including Albany, Saratoga and Schenectady, and the Island Hospice, a hospice and bereavement center in Zimbabwe, formed the first collaboration between an American hospice and an African hospice in 1999. Since then, 75 hospice alliances between African and American hospices have formed.

These connections are made through an organization called Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is now located out of the Washington, D.C., area but was started in Saratoga County.

In December, Val Maasdorp, the clinical manager for Island Hospice in Zimbabwe came for a visit to Niskayuna to see how things are running in the Capital District and to share some information about how things are running in Zimbabwe. While the institutions in Africa might both be called hospice, the functions vary " in Island Hospice, 95 to 99 percent of the patients have AIDS.

"We are what is called a hospice and bereavement service, so we look after patients with an illness that is likely to shorten their life," said Maasdorp.

Started in 1979, they received their first AIDS patient in 1996. Maasdorp said that slowly the number of AIDS patients at Island Hospice increased, and currently, the majority of their patients either have AIDS or AIDS-related cancer.

"We don't have any in-beds " it's all home-based care, so we drive out and help family members so that they can care for the ones they love at home," said Maasdorp. "We also have a bereavement service so we can take care of people who have had an illness that does not go through our program."

In America, according to Maasdorp, people don't enter into hospice until they are in the final stage of life " they have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and their doctors have predicted they only have six months left to live. It is paid for through insurance. In Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa, hospice is free.

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