Global atlas highlights unmet need for palliative care

Categories: In The Media.

The Atlas is the first document to map the need for and availability of palliative care globally. The importance of this form of care is being emphasized by the WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2013–2020 agreed on by WHO Member States in 2013.

Palliative care relieves the physical, psychosocial and spiritual suffering of patients with serious advanced illnesses and their families and is provided by teams of professionals and community volunteers.

About one third of those needing palliative care suffer from cancer. Others have progressive illnesses affecting their heart, lung, liver, kidney, brain, or chronic, life-threatening diseases including HIV and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

It is estimated that every year over 20 million patients need palliative care at the end of life. Some 6% of these are children. The number of people requiring this sort of care rises to at least 40 million if those that could benefit from palliative care at an earlier stage of their life are included. If family members are also taken into consideration (hospice and palliative care always includes some aspects of care for multiple family members) the actual need could double or triple.

In 2011, approximately 3 million patients received palliative care, the vast majority at the end of their life. Although most palliative care is provided in high-income countries, almost 80% of the global need for palliative care is in low- and middle-income countries. Only 20 countries have palliative care well integrated into their healthcare systems[1].

“The Atlas shows that the great majority of the global need of end of life care is associated with noncommunicable diseases. While we join efforts to reduce the burden of the biggest killers in the world today, we must also alleviate the suffering of those with progressive illness who do not respond to curative treatment,” said Dr Oleg Chestnov, WHO Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.

The Atlas calls on all countries to include palliative care as an essential component to every modern healthcare system. This means addressing barriers such as: 

  1. lack of policies recognizing palliative care and the need for care both at the end of life and during progressive illnesses;
  2.  lack of resources to implement services, including access to essential medicines, especially pain relievers;
  3.  lack of education for health care professionals and members of the public about the benefits of palliative care.

“It is staggering that although 40 million people need some form of palliative care annually, 42% of countries still have no identified hospice and palliative care service. As Canadians we need to work together to ensure that our citizens have the best possible access to end-of-life care, no matter the illness,” stated Sharon Baxter, Executive Director of the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association and Board Member of the WPCA. “The Atlas will be an invaluable tool in helping us advocate for this important international issue.”

Last week, the Executive Board of the WHO called on Member States to strengthen palliative care as a component of integrated treatment throughout the life course and recommended that the 67th World Health Assembly adopts a resolution on the subject in May 2014.

The Atlas can be downloaded at http://www.who.int/nmh/publications/en/ or at http://www.thewpca.org/resources

Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2020: http://www.who.int/nmh/events/ncd_action_plan/en/

WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. For more information on WHO go to www.who.int

The Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance (WPCA) is a global action network focusing exclusively on hospice and palliative care development worldwide. Its members are national and regional hospice and palliative care organisations and affiliate organisations supporting hospice and palliative care. The WPCA is in official relations with the World Health Organization and this publication is one product of that relationship. WPCA is the international arm for www.ehospice.com, an international palliative care news and information service, and is the home for World Hospice and Palliative Care Day www.worldday.org. For more information on the WPCA go to www.thewpca.org

About the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association

The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) is the national voice for hospice palliative care in Canada. It is a bilingual, national charitable non-profit association whose mission is the pursuit of excellence in care for persons approaching death so that the burdens of suffering, loneliness and grief are lessened.


[1] Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States of America