WHPCA and allies speak up for palliative care and pain relief at the 69th World Health Assembly

Categories: Policy.

The Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA), along with allies such as the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC) and the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) have continued their advocacy efforts for improved access to hospice, palliative care and pain relief worldwide.

WHO report on implementing the palliative care resolution

An important feature of this year’s meeting is the report back from WHO on the resolution adopted two years ago at the 67th WHA: ‘Strengthening of palliative care as a component of comprehensive care throughout the life course (resolution WHA67.19)’.

The report will be presented later today or tomorrow. 

WHO published their official report, detailing progress in implementing the resolution, ahead of the meeting. A report was also produced by civil society, calling on WHO and member states to prioritise the development of palliative care, and that they dedicate resources to accelerate this process.

Cancer control side event

UICC hosted a well-attended official side event: ‘Are we making the right investments for cancer control? A global dialogue’.

The event was co-hosted by the Ministries of Health of: Malaysia, Honduras, India, Jordan, Korea, Kuwait, Peru and Zambia.

Co-hosting NGOs included WHPCA, along with the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), International Organization for Medical Physics (IOMP) and the International Society of Radiology (ISR).

A number of presentations and interventions mentioned and stressed the importance of palliative care.

Dr Stephen Connor, WHPCA Executive Director, shared the civil society report that reminded those present that: “At least 40 million patients and their families need palliative care annually, 78% in low and middle income countries; less than 10% of those needing this care receive it worldwide; and 75% of the citizens of the world lack adequate access to opioids for pain relief.”

He gave an intervention following the official discussion, saying: “Most national governments still do not include palliative care in health care policies and legislation and the public is unaware that such vital services exist.”

Dr Connor reminded those listening of the recommendations set out in the civil society report, that:

  1. donor countries make funds available to fully implement the palliative care resolution
  2. countries should ensure palliative care is covered under national plans for Universal Health Coverage
  3. all countries should adopt national strategies for palliative care implementation including health professional training and access to essential palliative care medicines; and that
  4. the next progress report on implementation of the palliative care resolution should be presented to the 2018 World Health Assembly.

Dr Katherine Pettus, IAHPC Advocacy Officer, gave an intervention at the side event around access to controlled medications. Dr Pettus was also invited to write an article on: ‘A joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem’ which was published on the WHO website.

WHO response to UNGASS outcome document

The WHO response to the outcome document from the recent United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug problem was also high on the agenda. 

WHO’s role in the UNGASS process is to highlight the public health dimensions of the world drug problem.

As WHO note on their website: “Public health measures can substantially lessen the disease and social burdens associated with psychoactive drug use, and people all over the world should have access to medicines controlled under international drug conventions for the treatment of medical conditions and for pain relief.

“Currently, national drug policies often focus on law enforcement and supply reduction with little attention given to prevention, treatment and harm reduction measures for people with drug use disorders; or access to controlled medicines.”

While addressing the WHA at the opening ceremony, Dr Margaret Chan reminded the world’s health leaders that the world drug problem is “a prime concern” for WHO. She spoke strongly in support of the need to improve access to medicines for pain management worldwide, saying: “I urge you to remember the people. And remember their right to treatment and care.”

WHO Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health

The WHO Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health was approved and ratified by the WHA. The Strategy sets out a framework for Member States, the WHO Secretariat and partners to contribute to achieving the vision that all people can live long and healthy lives.

It suggests two goals, and five strategic objectives. The goals are:

  1. five years of evidence-based action to maximise functional ability that reaches every person; and
  2. by 2020, establish evidence and partnerships necessary to support a Decade of Healthy Ageing from 2020 to 2030.

The objectives are:

  1. commitment to action on Healthy Ageing in every country;
  2. developing age-friendly environments;
  3. aligning health systems to the needs of older populations;
  4. developing sustainable and equitable systems for providing long-term care (home, communities, institutions); and
  5. improving measurement, monitoring and research on Healthy Ageing.

The importance of palliative care as part of healthy ageing was noted in the Strategy. 

Dr Connor presented an intervention, noting that, of the at least 40 million patients and their families need palliative care each year (78% living in LMIC’s), almost 70% are older persons and less than 10% of this need is being met.

He said: “Palliative care and effective whole person pain and symptom management contributes to the effective expression of intrinsic capacity and dignity. If you are in pain or short of breath it is quite difficult to experience quality of life.

“We all would like to live out our lives with full capacities, however the reality is that most of us will need help. And those with complex chronic and life limiting conditions will need primary and some specialist palliative care.”

He closed by reminding those present that “plans for healthy ageing can never be complete without the inclusion of palliative care.”

You can read more about the 69th World Health Assembly on the WHO website