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To continue the legacy of palliative care pioneer Cynthia Goh, who died in February 2022, her family and friends gave $6 million to set up an institute in her name.
The Cynthia Goh Palliative Care Institute (CGPCI), which is expected to cost a total of $12 million to set up, aims to build palliative care capacity and capability to meet future needs in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific region.
It was launched by Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Professor Goh’s husband, Dr Goh Hak-Su, at the 8th Singapore Palliative Care Conference on Saturday.The Singapore Government will match the donated sum for the institute’s establishment.
Speaking to The Sunday Times in an exclusive interview on Friday, Dr Goh Hak-Su, a surgeon in private practice, said: “Cynthia was a person who did not care about names. Rather, what she wanted was to get things done.
“She was very encompassing in terms of wanting to get people together. And she had this mission of wanting to introduce palliative care in Singapore.”
CGPCI will be located at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), where Prof Cynthia Goh first set up palliative care services in 1999, and “where she was cared for throughout her cancer journey”, said Associate Professor Patricia Neo, who heads NCCS’ supportive and palliative care division.
“Prof Cynthia Goh was a visionary who dedicated her life to developing palliative care in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific region.
“We continue to be inspired by her legendary work and hope to uphold her legacy by supporting palliative care development in Singapore and building a strong faculty of global palliative care leaders in Singapore and the region,” said Prof Neo, who also heads the SingHealth Duke-NUS Supportive and Palliative Care Centre, and was the chairman of Singapore Hospice Council.
Prof Cynthia Goh was instrumental in promoting access to hospice and palliative care in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific region.
She served in the Asia Pacific Hospice Care Network (APHN) as the advisory committee chair from 2009 to 2021, and led projects to help build capacity for palliative care in low- and middle-income countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India and Bhutan.
“Cynthia started palliative care from the very beginning, not far from when palliative care became a speciality,” her husband said.
Prof Cynthia Goh trained in London under Dame Cicely Saunders, who founded the first modern hospice in 1967.
She approached the Health Ministry in 1986 to start a programme in elderly and palliative care but was told there was no need for such services in Singapore, according to previous reports.
But her big break came when the father of hospice care in Japan, Dr Tetsuo Kashiwagi, visited St Joseph’s Home in 1986.
His visit was reported by The Straits Times.
Using that report, headlined “In Singapore, a place to die peacefully”, Prof Goh pushed for palliative care in Singapore.
In 1989, she and a group of like-minded doctors, nurses and lay volunteers joined the Singapore Cancer Society and began home hospice services.
The group was also instrumental in getting palliative medicine recognised in Singapore in 2006 as a medical sub-speciality, in line with other countries such as Britain and Australia.
“Today, it’s very much mainstream. It’s taught in medical school, people get training in it and they have a career path now,” her husband said.Prof Cynthia Goh was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late 2020.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and her own illness, she was one of a group of Singaporeans who worked tirelessly to arrange a special flight to fulfil cancer-stricken Bangladeshi shipyard worker Sikdar Rana’s dying wish to return home for what was likely his last Eid with his family.
It was one of the last projects of her life. She died in February 2022 at the age of 72.
“I promised her that I would get this institute done and that is the last project of my life.
“It will not only look at the past and the things we had done. It will be looking ahead and will help develop palliative care and keep us always at the forefront in the field,” said Dr Goh Hak-Su.