Palliative care at the 67th World Health Assembly

Categories: Policy.

The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization. It is attended by delegations from all WHO Member States and focuses on a specific health agenda prepared by the Executive Board. The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to determine the policies of the Organization, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies, and review and approve the proposed programme budget. The World Health Assembly is held annually in Geneva, Switzerland. This year’s agenda can be found online.

A full programme of side events will run parallel to the main agenda. Earlier this evening, the International Association of Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC) and the European Association of Palliative Care (EAPC) hosted an event to present the findings of the ATOME project on Access To Opioid Medications in Europe and to discuss how to use these findings. The WHPCA will host a side event on palliative care to discuss the palliative care resolution and its possible implementation, and to publicize country palliative care programmes. 

The main objectives of the WHPCA delegation are to support country delegations in presenting the WHO resolution to the WHA, to host a side event to publicize country palliative care programmes and to position WHPCA and other palliative care organizations to provide expert technical assistance to WHO and member states planning to implement the resolution.

The palliative care resolution

This year, for the first time ever, the WHA will consider a resolution on palliative care. The resolution: Strengthening of palliative care as a component of integrated treatment within the continuum of care urges countries to integrate palliative care into healthcare systems, to improve training for healthcare workers and to ensure that relevant medicines, including strong pain medicines, are available to patients. It also urges WHO to increase its technical assistance to member countries on the development of palliative care services.

Dr Stephen Connor, Senior Fellow to the WHPCA, commented: “We hope that this resolution, if passed, will mark the beginning of structured standards and guidelines for palliative care set by the World Health Organization. The resolution will signal to countries that they need to include palliative care in their healthcare budgets and in professional curricula. In short, countries will realise that palliative care is to be taken seriously.”

What does this mean for local hospice and palliative care services?

The WHO resolution sets out expectations for UN members states with regard to integration of palliative care into country health systems. Although the WHO does not have the power to enforce the decisions made at WHA, member states will be obliged to report statistics related to these issues, and therefore this resolution will encourage national governments to take an interest in palliative care.

Dr Liz Gwyther, WHPCA trustee and CEO of the Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa, said: “The resolution would be a powerful advocacy tool for hospice and palliative care organisations to use at national and local levels. Hospices and palliative care services are encouraged to promote themselves as examples of excellent palliative care provision. These services will be well placed to provide advice and demonstrate the provision of palliative care to policy makers; that is the people who are in charge of planning health services at national and local levels. Health managers can look to these services to see firstly what palliative care is and what it means, and also how it can be provided at the community level.”

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