Research estimates 21 million children globally need palliative care

Categories: Research.

Traditionally global health care efforts are directed to mortality reduction rather than the provision of palliative care. The global need for children’s palliative care is unknown, however there is an increased awareness of the gaps that exist in access to palliative care for children around the world. 

The current issue of the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Vol. 55 No. 2 February 2017 has published research entitled Estimating the Global Need for Palliative Care for Children: A Cross-sectional Analysis. The study was conducted from June 2014 to May 2015 and carried out by desk research with regular review and discussion with clinical experts in children’s palliative care. The study was commissioned by the International Children’s Palliative Care Network  (ICPCN).

This research aims to provide more accurate estimates of the need in order to understand the scope of the need and to advocate to meet it. 

Researchers, Stephen R. Connor, PhD, Julia Downing, PhD and Joan Marston, RN, MA, state the objectives of the study as the creation of an accurate global estimate of the worldwide need for children’s palliative care based on a representative sample of countries from all regions of the world and all World Bank income groups.

The research builds on previously published methods developed by the International Children’s Palliative Care Network (ICPCN), United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization which was tested in three African countries (Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe). The study used a cross-sectional design with quantitative data obtained from primary and secondary data sources.

The following is a list of diagnostic conditions relevant for children’s palliative care used by the study:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Congenital anomalies
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Endocrine, blood, and immune disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Meningitis
  • Protein energy malnutrition
  • Neurologic disorders
  • Neonatal conditions
  • Drug-resistant TB

Findings show the estimated need for children’s palliative care ranged from almost 120 per 10,000 children in Zimbabwe to slightly more than 20 per 10,000 in the UK. Overall, among the over 21 million with conditions that will benefit annually from a palliative care approach, more than 8 million need specialized care. 

The research concludes that the estimation of need for children’s palliative care is a critical step in meeting the needs of children with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions and provides a sound platform to advocate for closure of the unacceptably wide gaps in coverage. 

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