Putting health at the centre of the response to drugs – palliative care advocacy at the World Health Organization Executive Board meeting

Categories: Policy.

The meeting focussed on the WHO Strategy and Action plan on Ageing, UN Sustainable Development Goals, as well as preparations for UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem to take place in May this year.

Dr Stephen Connor, on behalf of the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance, submitted a statement in response to agenda item 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 statement, published on the World Health Organization website, noted that while the UN drug control conventions were created in order to protect the health and well-being of mankind, discussions on drugs have centred too strongly on law enforcement rather than health approaches.

Dr Connor called for WHO, the Executive Board and the World Health Assembly to weigh in on these discussions: “proactively and on an ongoing basis.”

The lack of access to controlled substances for medical purposes, especially opioid medications for pain relief, is of great concern to healthcare professionals, particularly palliative care practitioners throughout the world.

The International Narcotics Control Board has estimated that 75% of the world population does not have adequate access to these medications. As a result, millions of people suffer from pain which is avoidable and could be managed with proper access to the correct medications.

Dr Connor noted that these medications are inexpensive and easy to administer, but cited a WHO Secretariat report pointing to regulatory, educational and systemic barriers which impede access.

He called for a coordinated approach by national governments and UN agencies to tackle this problem. As he noted in the statement: “It is … imperative that the UNGASS outcome document mandates a UN-wide response to this public health crisis, calling on WHO, UNODC, INCB, UNDP and other relevant UN agencies to work together for a solution.” He also noted that the current draft of the UNGASS outcomes document focusses too narrowly on drug control.

Dr Connor argued that this all-UN, all-government approach was necessary not only to achieve drug control objectives, but also that it would be vital to achieve Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals: ‘Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Well-being for All and All Ages. He noted that: “This goal cannot be met as long as major gaps in access to controlled medicines persist.”

Find out more about the WHO Executive Board meeting and follow the preparations for the UNGASS on the World Drug Problem online.