Palliative care advocates, including direct stakeholders highlighted palliative care as an “essential component” of healthy ageing, universal health coverage and the response to non-communicable diseases at the World Health Organization Executive Board meeting in Geneva last week.
Dr Stephen Connor, CEO of the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance, along with members of the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care, including Dr Rumana Dowla, Chair of the Bangladesh Palliative and Supportive Care Foundation, and Dr Natalia Arias Casais, kept palliative care foremost in the minds of the meeting attendees with powerful interventions.
Palliative care advocates also met with key WHO staff during the week and took the opportunity to talk to national healthcare leaders and policymakers about the importance of supporting palliative care in their home countries.
Sharon Thompson, whose daughter Victoria died at 9 months old of a rare condition in 2012, wrote an intervention to show the value that palliative care had for her family during Victoria’s illness. She said: “Despite it being the worst time in our lives, we were thankful she received palliative care including morphine for her pain. The alternative is unimaginable.”
Sharon called for focus, funding and monitoring of progress of palliative care in UHC packages, arguing that to do otherwise would be to deny the existence of millions of children like Victoria, living and dying with rare conditions, as well as adults who need palliative care.
She said: “I will not be content until other families around the world can have the basic care they need, that they can come home, or go to a hospital or hospice, and feel they have the links to medical and support staff and know that their child or family member can live well and won’t live and die in pain alone.”
Dr Connor gave an intervention on the importance of integrating palliative care across national health systems to address the suffering related to non-communicable diseases. He said: “Palliative care is one of the most inequitable areas of healthcare with tens of millions of people worldwide suffering without it.”
He noted that palliative care is now a WHO Global Good and argued that: “When palliative care is not integrated within health systems, it causes avoidable suffering for people with non-communicable diseases their families and carers. It is cost effective and the right thing to do. When palliative care is being provided it can transform people lives, providing a model for effective person centred care.”
Dr Dowla spoke for WHPCA to the report on Healthy Ageing, reminding the delegates that Nearly 70% of people with palliative care needs are older persons, and that ageing is often accompanied by serious illness and co-morbidities.
She argued that these can be managed to a significant degree with treatment and good symptom management along with psychological, social, and spiritual support, saying: “Primary and community-based care are increasingly needed for older persons and integrating a palliative care approach will improve the quality of life of older persons. Long term care that includes palliative care knowledge and skill is also a necessary component of healthy ageing, particularly for pain and symptom management.
“Let’s accept that for healthy ageing palliative care is an essential component.”