Associate Professor of Sociology Rifat Akhter is stepping out of her comfort zone in a big way, she said.
Alongside Shahinur Kabir, Akhter, who specializes in globalization and gender studies, founded the charity Aastha Community Palliative and Hospice Care Service in her homeland of Bangladesh.
Akhter became aware of the need for hospice care in Bangladesh when her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Although her mother was able to receive chemotherapy and pain medication through hospice care, Akhter became aware that hospice care is not widely available in Bangladesh.
Akhter said the nurse caring for her mother began crying one day because her family wasn’t able to afford morphine or hospice care during the last three months of her mother’s life.
Akhter and Kabir started the service for people in poverty in 2016.
“At that time current access to palliative and hospice care in Bangladesh was less than 1 percent [of the population],” Akhter said.
Akhter said when speaking to families of terminally ill patients in Bangladesh, the term “palliative care” is preferred over “hospice care” because “hospice care” suggests that doctors know how long a patient has to live — which would indicate that doctors know more than God.
“Hospice care and love are the best ways to help the patient cross over to the other world,” Akhter said.
Aastha Community Palliative and Hospice Care Service created the Khanam Memorial Foundation in the name of Akhter’s mother to help fund palliative care medications and medical equipment for terminally ill cancer patients.
“My mother was always helping others, and she was my inspiration in beginning this charity,” Akhter said.
Aastha Community Palliative and Hospice Care Service has served 39 patients who have passed away and is currently serving 15 patients.
“The poor feel the same about their parents as people who have money,” Akhter said. “A life well lived deserves a good ending, even if they are poor.”
The charity also works to encourage high school students to pursue careers as palliative care nurses with free training.
“We are hoping it will be possible for Aastha to go global, allowing us to apply for grants, as now our charity works on donations only,” Akhter said.
Akhter said one of Aastha’s goals is to expand its services to inpatient hospice treatment to help patients whose families are busy working.
“I hope many of these things will happen in my lifetime,” Akhter said. “My hope is for Aastha Community Palliative and Hospice Care Service to continue to grow and serve the people of Bangladesh even after my life is over.”
Akhter said she hopes Aastha can spread awareness of illnesses to families and community volunteers and one day serve people in the country.
“We hope to expand our service outside of cities into the country, increase our palliative and hospice
nurses and increase awareness among people that we have established hospice care,” Akhter said.
Freshman Zane Grant said he was inspired to work with charities after learning of Akhter’s work.
“I hope to work with a charity such as Doctors without Borders for at least a year after I graduate,” Grant said.