New advocacy messages from the International Children’s Palliative Care Network for World Health Day

Categories: Policy.

Introductory research conducted by the International Children’s Palliative Care Network (ICPCN) revealed that more than 21 million children globally are in need of palliative care. 98% of these children live in low and middle income countries and almost half are concentrated in Africa. 

Due to these unacceptable statistics, the ICPCN has committed to advocating for the following:

1. Access to good health care, including palliative care, is every child’s right.

The ICPCN believes that children’s palliative care is the right of any child diagnosed with a life-limiting or life-threatening illness. 

This belief is supported by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that the best interest of the child should be the primary consideration in all interactions with the child. It further refers to palliative care as a component of the child’s right to health. 

The Human Rights Committee of the UN also recognises children’s palliative care as an obligatory part of health care services to be provided by adequately trained professionals.

The World Health Assembly, in its 2014 Palliative Care Resolution 67.19, urges countries to integrate palliative care into their national healthcare systems and make opioids and other essential palliative care medicines available to effectively manage pain and other symptoms in children.

2. Good pain and symptom management, making use of paediatric formulations when needed, is every child’s right.

Pain is the most prevalent symptom, experienced by 80% of children with cancer, 67% of those with progressive non-malignant diseases and 55% of those with HIV and AIDS. 

The ICPCN’s experience has shown that pain in children is often inadequately treated due to a lack of practitioner skill in assessing a child’s pain and the fear of using opioids by medical professionals working with children. 

Morphine is the medication of choice for treating moderate to severe pain, preferably using the oral route as it is safe and inexpensive. The WHO two-step ladder should be used as a guide and medications need to be provided in paediatric formulations.

Other physical symptoms as well as psychosocial and spiritual pain should be appropriately managed to ensure relief of suffering and good quality of life for the child and family.

3. Universal Health Coverage must include palliative care for children by skilled healthcare workers.

The World Health Organization defines Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as access by people of all ages to the promotive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need and that these services should be affordable and of sufficient quality to be effective. 

We therefore call on every government to actively ensure that palliative care for children is included as an integral part of UHC.

You can read more about the work of the ICPCN on the organisation’s website.