Palliative care in China still in its infancy

Categories: Policy.

Palliative care in China is in its infancy – in a report published by The Economist Intelligence Unit in 2010, which compared the quality of death in 40 countries, China was ranked 37th out of 40.

The authors of a recent article published in The Asia Pacific Journal of Health Management point to cultural values and attitudes to illness and death as the main reason for the slow development of palliative care in the country.

They say: “Death is often considered to be a failure of medicine, rather than as the natural end of human life. Chinese people are encouraged to fight disease, based on the belief that scientific medicine can cure all diseases. As noted, in such a cure-oriented model, alleviating suffering is not valued as much as curing disease, and patients who cannot be cured feel distanced from the healthcare team concluding that when treatment has failed, they too have failed. The consequences are late or no referral to palliative care and dying in hospital is preferred.”

The authors also highlight how a lack of government funding for palliative care and limited education and training in this area reflect this cultural focus on curative treatments.

The article goes on to outline how palliative care in China can be improved, based on the World Health Organisation’s public health model for integrating palliative care into existing healthcare services. Their suggestions focus on public policy, education and training of healthcare professionals, lobbying of policy makers, and public education and information campaigns. 

The full article “Palliative Care in Mainland China” is published in volume 8, issue 1 of The Asia Pacific Journal of Health Management, which can be accessed for free from the website of the Australasian College of Health Service Management.