King's College London

Research portal

What constitutes a palliative care need in people with serious illnesses across Africa? A mixed-methods systematic review of the concept and evidence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1052-1070
Number of pages19
JournalPalliative Medicine
Issue number6
Early online date16 Apr 2021
Accepted/In press21 Mar 2021
E-pub ahead of print16 Apr 2021
PublishedJun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: OA is funded by the King’s International Postgraduate Research Scholarship from King’s College London. MM is funded by an NIHR Career Development Fellowship (CDF-2017-10-009) and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration South London (NIHR ARC South London) at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2021. Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors



Clarity on what constitutes a palliative care need is essential to ensure that health systems and clinical services deliver an appropriate response within Universal Health Coverage.


To synthesise primary evidence from Africa for palliative care needs among patients and families with serious illness.


We conducted a mixed methods systematic review with sequential synthesis design. The protocol was registered with PROSPERO (CRD42019136606) and included studies were quality assessed using Mixed Method Appraisal Tool.

Data sources:

Six global literature databases and Three Africa-specific databases were searched up to October 2020 for terms related to palliative care, serious illnesses and Africa. Palliative care need was defined as multidimensional problems, symptoms, distress and concerns which can benefit from palliative care.


Of 7810 papers screened, 159 papers met eligibility criteria. Palliative care needs were mostly described amongst patients with HIV/AIDS (n = 99 studies) or cancer (n = 59), from East (n = 72) and Southern (n = 89) Africa. Context-specific palliative care needs included managing pregnancy and breastfeeding, preventing infection transmission (physical); health literacy needs, worry about medical bills (psychological); isolation and stigma, overwhelmed families needing a break, struggling to pay children’s school fees and selling assets (social and practical needs); and rites associated with cultural and religious beliefs (spiritual).


Palliative care assessment and care must reflect the context-driven specific needs of patients and families in Africa, in line with the novel framework. Health literacy is a crucial need in this context that must be met to ensure that the benefits of palliative care can be achieved at the patient-level.

View graph of relations

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454