National Health Officials must speak out on palliative care and pain management at WHO Executive Board meeting

Categories: Policy.

At its next meeting (January 25-30, 2016), the Executive Board of the World Health Organization will discuss the public health dimension of the world drug problem. This is an important opportunity for the palliative care and pain communities to get UN Member States to highlight the ongoing challenges with limited access to opioid analgesics in much of the world, and for Member States to encourage WHO to continue its efforts to implement that 2014 World Health Assembly palliative care resolution.  

Access to controlled medications

In April 2016, the UN General Assembly will hold a special session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem in New York. In an effort to ensure that public health considerations are central to the discussion at the UNGASS, a group of countries requested a discussion on the public health dimensions of the world drug problem at the WHO Executive Board meeting in January 2016.

The WHO secretariat is currently preparing a report that will guide the discussion of Member States during the meeting. The topic is listed on the Executive Board’s agenda as: ‘6.4 – Public health dimension of the world drug problem including in the context of the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem, to be held in 2016.’

The issue of medical use of controlled substances should be a key topic of discussion. Other issues will include: substance abuse (including prevention and treatment); prevention of HIV and hepatitis C transmission as well as treatment.  

This is an important opportunity for the palliative care community to ensure UN Member States voice their continued concern about the limited availability of palliative care in much of the world and to ensure that controlled medicines are adequately addressed during the UNGASS on drugs.

Member states must express support for the implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution on palliative care

Since the adoption of the 2014 World Health Assembly resolution, the WHO has been more active on palliative care than ever before. Encouraged by the large number of Member States who spoke out in support of the resolution, the WHO has assigned specific staff to its implementation; organised several regional meetings on palliative care; developed draft manuals on development of palliative care services; and is working on new clinical guidelines on pain management. To sustain this momentum, it is crucial that Member States continue to express their support for this work and their desire for it to continue. 

Member states must speak out in favour of improved access to controlled medicines at the WHO Executive Board meeting

Since 2008, the pain and palliative care community has fought for more attention to the limited access to opioid analgesics and other controlled medicines in discussions on global drug policy. We have made significant strides: In 2008, the issue was simply not on the agenda. In the preparations for the UNGASS 2016, dozens of countries have identified it as an important issue that must be addressed.

We have to make sure that the outcome document from the UNGASS not just acknowledges the issue but calls for UN-wide action to solve it. To achieve that, we need countries to speak out on controlled medicines at the WHO Executive Board meeting. 

How can you help? 

During the WHO Executive Board meeting, the WHO will present its report on the public health dimension of the world drug problem followed by a discussion among Member States. We need to make sure that as many countries as possible speak about the importance of access to controlled medicines and pain and palliative care. Ideally, we would like them to make the following points:

  1. Express concern about the limited availability of controlled medicines, especially opioid analgesics, in much of the world. 
  2. Emphasise the need for an UN-wide response to this public health crisis. 
  3. Stress importance of addressing challenges with availability to controlled medicines to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal on health. 
  4. Call for the UNGASS on Drugs outcome document to mandate a UN-wide effort to address this public health crisis. 
  5. Call for the recognition of the leading role of the WHO in the global response to drugs.

Find out more about each of the above points on the WHPCA website.

What should you do? 

Contact health officials in your ministry and find out who will be preparing your country’s intervention on Agenda Item 6.4 of the WHO Executive Board meeting. You can find out the names of those on the delegation from your country that attended the WHO Executive Board meeting and the World Health Assembly last year. As this issue will be discussed under the overall heading of non-communicable diseases, it is likely that officials responsible for NCDs will play a role in deciding what your country will say.

Request relevant health officials to include the above points in their intervention. You can access a prepared text you can send to officials on the WHPCA website. However, just sending a letter is usually not very effective. It would be ideal if you could speak with the relevant officials, discuss the above points and then send a letter as follow up.

Contact Diederik Lohman with any questions.

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