BBC highlights “public health emergency” of lack of access to palliative care

Categories: In The Media.

The Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance (WPCA) released updated figures to the BBC on the need for palliative care globally. These figures were based on the World Health Organization (WHO) 2012 mortality data. These are updated figures from the previously published estimates in the Global Atlas on Palliative Care at the End of Life (utilising 2011 mortality data).

These figures state that the need for palliative care in 2012 increased from 20.4 million to 22.4 million. They also highlight that 18 million people died with inadequate access to pain treatment in 2012.

Access to pain treatment and palliative care is particularly problematic in developing countries. However, morphine is an effective and inexpensive pain relieving medication and can be made cheaply available, as has been shown in countries such as Uganda.

The WPCA recognises that the unmet need is likely underestimated in most countries due to the fact that palliative care is often available from the point of diagnosis, not just the end of life, and is not just about pain treatment. However, the data provides an interesting comparative study of the level of access to pain treatment, as a surrogate for palliative care, in different countries.

Dr Stephen Connor, Senior Fellow at the WPCA, stated: “This is a public health emergency and an intolerable situation. People around the world are dying in unnecessary pain and distress. Barriers to adequate pain treatment worldwide include overly restrictive laws and regulation, over-exaggerated fears of addiction and a lack of understanding of the issues among governments and health professionals. Attitudes need to change.”

The BBC reporter spoke to Betty Naiga, a woman living with breast cancer in Uganda, who talked about her situation before she was connected with the services of Hospice Africa Uganda. She said: “The pain was too much before. I would not sleep. I would not do anything. It was excruciating. I had given up on life. I wished I was dead.”

Commenting on the new figures, Jonathan Ellis, Director of Policy and Advocacy at UK national hospice charity, Help the Hospices, said: “It is deeply worrying that in the twenty-first century so many terminally ill people across the world still do not have access to the pain relief they desperately need. Access to pain relief should be a basic right wherever people may live in the world.”

The data also ranks countries in terms of access to palliative care based on need with the UK featuring as one of the top countries, alongside others such as the US, Norway and Germany.

Mr Ellis called attention to the fact that, even in high-ranking countries such as the UK, many people who need palliative care do not access these services.

He highlighted the importance of the recent World Health Assembly resolution which calls on member states to strengthen palliative care as part of their health systems.

Read the article Millions denied end-of-life drugs on the BBC website and listen to a podcast online. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *