Author: Dr. Sophia Michaelson, Executive Director of the American Eurasian Cancer Alliance (AECA)
The Global Atlas of Palliative Care recently reported that worldwide, only about 12% of people who need palliative care currently receive it. Understanding this challenge, the American Eurasian Cancer Alliance (AECA) has worked for over a decade toward decreasing disparities in access by promoting palliative care programs and policies across the Eurasian perimeter, alongside valued international partners and U.S. palliative care experts. In order to implement the most effective initiatives, AECA liaises with local experts, regional associations, and Ministries of Health to ensure that patients receive optimal care and that Eurasian national efforts meet global standards.
Building a Palliative Care Foundation in Eurasia
Jump starting AECA’s palliative care efforts in 2013, the Alliance connected U.S. palliative care experts with leading Russian institutions to explore research avenues on a number of topics in oncology and palliative medicine. At the 2015 Cancer Control Leadership Forum in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, AECA expanded its territorial focus and engaged several Central Asian countries to incorporate palliative care into their national plans and institutional training programs on behalf of the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI). To maintain momentum following the palliative care success on an international stage, AECA launched the Eurasian Palliative Care Program at the World Cancer Leaders’ Summit in Istanbul, Turkey.
Following productive clinical conversations on the appropriate use of palliative care, AECA optimized the CIS and Eurasia Congress of Oncologists and Radiologists in Minsk, Belarus to advance palliative care policy throughout the Eurasian region. AECA clinical experts later participated in the “Stop My Pain” Roundtable in Astana, Kazakhstan, which aligned with an expert-led training on pain management for cancer patients. Throughout the years, AECA strategically aligned palliative care efforts alongside longstanding international partners and world-renowned clinical and policy experts.
AECA has seamlessly integrated palliative care topics into global cancer control convenings. In 2018, AECA led a programmatic effort by leveraging the 10th Congress of Oncologists and Radiologists in Sochi, Russia for further discussions on palliative care. Following the event, AECA brought U.S. experts to Moscow to discuss international cooperation, in advance of one of the largest palliative care facility launches in the Eurasian region.
Launching an International Palliative Care Hub
AECA led NCI’s effort to facilitate ongoing collaboration between leading U.S. and Russian palliative care organizations, including international expert visits to the Sechenov University in Moscow, Russia. In 2019, AECA partnered with global palliative care representatives, including Chief Expert on Palliative Care at the Russian Ministry of Health Dr. Diana Nevzorova, in a monumental effort to support the launch of the Federal Palliative Care Center at Sechenov University. Through this coalition, international experts in palliative care provided technical and advisory support to increase both organizational capacity and international cooperation. Alongside the event, AECA and Russian hospice care professionals coordinated a clinical conference focused on new technologies and best practices in palliative care.
Since the launch, hundreds of patients have received quality care at the Center, and more than a thousand physicians throughout Eurasia have engaged with the Center.
As a result of ongoing cooperation between U.S. and Eurasian palliative care leaders, AECA supports the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance in their enhancement of the Center’s minimum data set to facilitate health services research that will allow for a complete picture of how hospice and palliative care is delivered throughout the Eurasian region. This data includes routine and systematic measurement of information on patient demographics, type of care received, provider details, and cost and quality of care. With nearly 80% of U.S. patients who are hospitalized for serious illness having access to palliative services, research in developing regions offers the opportunity to identify treatment strategies that improve on practices already established.
Pivoting to Virtual Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
Despite new challenges to collaboration introduced by the global pandemic, AECA, and its partners quickly adjusted in-person engagement and dissemination plans to ensure the seamless continuation of U.S.-Eurasia palliative care efforts. A palliative care “Teach the Teacher” course was conducted after two years of diligent work and ongoing engagement from AECA’s international partners. The course provided educational professionals with guidance on how and what to teach emerging palliative care specialists, thus ensuring that best practices in palliative care research and treatment are implemented. Global palliative care experts are united in the effort to ensure regional healthcare professionals receive up-to-date training and certification, which has secured Russia’s position as an excellent partner for basic research and clinical trials in this emerging field of medicine.
Additionally, AECA is part of the international team coordinating regular palliative care case conferences where experts discuss clinical instruction on the management of patients suffering from complex pain syndromes, psychosocial problems, concomitant conditions, and other hard to manage symptoms. This effort has resulted in the creation of a case library that professionals can access at any time, vastly improving access to these vital discussions both now and for future U.S. and Eurasian clinicians.
AECA is proud to be part of this global palliative care effort, as it believes not only in improving educational curriculum and training opportunities, but that substantive changes in palliative care policy is tremendously important for patient quality of life.
Several AECA-affiliated stakeholders warrant recognition for their relentless, valuable contribution to improving the global palliative care landscape: Dr. Stephen Connor (Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance), Dr. Thomas Smith (Johns Hopkins University), Dr. Eric Krakauer (Harvard University), Dr. Jim Cleary (Indiana University), Dr. Marcin Chwistek (Fox Chase Cancer Center), and Dr. Robert Twycross (University of Oxford). AECA remains committed to engaging with global leaders in order to advance palliative care research, policy, and practice worldwide.