Unprecedented support for palliative care at WHA side event

Categories: Policy.

A distinguished panel of speakers, including assistant directors of the World Health Organization, members of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), heads of country health ministries and senior academia addressed the crowd.  

Mercedes Vinuesa Sebastián, Director-General for Public Health, Quality & Innovation. Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality of the Government of Spain, chaired the meeting which was translated into English, Spanish and French.

Other speakers included:

  • Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Innovation, Information, Evidence and Research
  • Dr Oleg Chestnov, WHO Assistant Director-General Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health
  • Sandhya Singh, Director of Non-communicable Diseases in the Department of Health of South Africa.
  • Dr Myrna McLaughlin-Anderson, University of Panama
  • Dr Nandini Vallath, India
  • Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Director General of Health of Malaysia
  • Dr Anibal Hurtado, Chile.

Professor Sri Suryawati of the INCB and colleaguse joined via Skype from the organisation’s offices in Vienna.

Speakers recognised palliative care as a human right, called for improved access to essential medications, and presented palliative care as not just a medical issue, but also as a social, family, community and systems issue.

Ms Vinuesa welcomed all present to the palliative care event and highlighted the importance of support of the resolution to be tabled later in the week for the integration of palliative care in to health systems.

Dr Chestnov spoke next, recognising palliative care as part of an integrative response to NCDs. He also highlighted the importance of increasing collaboration with UNODC and the INCB to ensure availability of controlled medications, calling for a multisectorial collaboration for the implementation of palliative care.

Ms Singh shared South Africa’s chronic disease model, explaining how this is currently serving as as a platform to integrate palliative care throughout the country. She also urged those listening not to forget the children when writing palliative care policy, before closing her presentation with the quote: ‘We are not the dying, we are the living. Help us live until we die.’

Prof Myrna McLaughlin-Anderson spoke about palliative care education in Panama, including the education of pharmacists in handling opioid prescriptions.

Dr Vallath presented India’s progress in palliative care provision, focusing particularly on access to opioid medications. She stressed the importance of changing attitudes of doctors towards opioids and the education of the community in terms of the benefits of opioids for pain control.

Prof Suryawati informed the meeting that INCB welcomes the palliative care resolution and is ready to help member states and WHO with its implementation.

Dr Abdullah spoke about ‘smart partnerships’ between the public and private sectors to implement palliative care in Malaysia. He emphasized the fact that the focus must be on patients rather than the providers.

Dr Hurtado called for recognition that palliative care is not just for the end of life, before reminding those attending of the necessity of government involvement in the provision of palliative care.

This event represented a significant milestone in the recognition of palliative care and was possible  only as a result of many years of determined advocacy.

Diederick Lohman, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch, commented on the interest shown in the event, saying: “I think the attendance shows how much importance many delegations attach to palliative care. It offers real hope for strong implementation of the resolution.”

Dr Stephen Connor, Senior Fellow to the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance, said: “The side event has shown how important advancing palliative care is to so many countries. We sometimes think it is only those of us working in palliative care who believe that these issues are important, but the world is now realizing how essential palliative care is to every country’s health care system. We continue to be overwhelmed with the support of health care leaders when they realize what palliative care can do for their citizens; Not just for patients but for so many families. Everyone is touched, palliative care is everyone’s business.”