Breaking the Barriers: Promoting “phila unethezeke” (palliative care) Awareness in Khayelitsha

According to community members, palliative care in Khayelitsha has long been associated with death, making it a sensitive topic for the community. Cultural and spiritual beliefs about death contribute to barriers in accessing palliative care resulting in many community members avoiding discussion and options for palliative care. Our goal in Khayelitsha is to change the community’s perception and tackle some of these barriers, as many palliative care patients only receive support from immediate family members, not the wider community.

Health Promotion Day in Khayelitsha: Who Was Involved and Why?

Health promotion enables people to make informed decisions regarding their health. The health promotion event was organised by fourth-year medical students from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Judith Mahlangu, Khayelitsha Site Facilitator and Researcher at UCT’s Department of Family, Community and Emergency Care, in partnership with The Association of Palliative Care Practitioners of South Africa (PALPRAC).

A diverse group of participants were invited to join the Health Promotion initiative. There were two components to this initiative. First, students and PALPRAC spent the morning on the live, local radio station, Zibonele FM, to introduce the topic of palliative care to listeners, who had the chance to send in their questions.

Some of the questions and concerns raised by the community:

-Palliative care is not for everyone; my child suffered and was not supported after being released from hospital. (Concern from the radio audience)

-Some families believe that if someone is serious ill, people should not be visiting the sick patient because they bring bad spirits.

-Why is it important that we are talking about caring for people who are dying?

-How do we (carers and general community) help someone who needs palliative care?

-What can we do, because we are supporting our family member who is sick, but the community is scared because they think a sick person is bewitched?

The second half of the project included an information session where community member, persons with disabilities, the elderly, carers of palliative care patients, community health workers (CHWs), and neighbourhood watch members could join the team to discuss the basics of palliative care. Bringing this community group together was crucial for raising awareness and giving marginalised, vulnerable individuals a platform to express their concerns. We aimed to promote inclusion to ensure that everyone felt heard and supported.

Goals and Achievements of Health Promotion

The primary goal was to challenge the barriers surrounding palliative care in Khayelitsha. The project created a space where the community could ask questions and discuss palliative care openly, marking a significant step towards normalising conversations about palliative care and providing better support for the community.

Our long-term goals for the Khayelitsha community includes; continuing to raise awareness about palliative care, starting support groups, and ensuring that local resources in Khayelitsha include palliative care support. We aim to have local clinics deliver essential palliative care medication to patients at home and support patients and their families emotionally and physically, addressing issues like poverty and mental health. Academically, we want to include the community’s voice in the curriculum, collect evidence on the impact of palliative care, and present our findings at conferences.


We extend our heartfelt thanks to Sr Shole of Khayelitsha District Hospital, Community members, Zibonele FM, PALPRAC, and UCT for their support and sponsorship. Together, we are working towards a future where everyone can, in palliative care, “phila unethezeke” –live comfortably.