Policy and advocacy

2014; Volume 15, No 12, December

Policy and advocacy

Advocacy highlights

Dr Katherine Pettus, PhD

Advocacy is a vital part of IAHPC’s role – here Katherine Pettus, IAHPC Advocacy Officer, describes some recent initiatives.

Advocacy highlights of October were participation in:

Dr. Dainius Puras has replaced Dr. Anand Grover as the Special Rapporteur for Health at the Human Rights Council. During his tenure, Anand Grover made several excellent statements about the right to palliative care and pain relief being part of the right to the highest attainable standard of health, and IAHPC has high expectations that Dr. Puras will continue this advocacy position. He was receptive to my presentation of IAHPC’s work, and contributed to a strong joint statement on World Hospice and Palliative Care Day supporting the right to palliative care. I expect to communicate with him and his staff about his missions, to ensure that he meets with our partners on the ground and includes palliative care capacity in his country and thematic reports.

The Geneva NGO Coalition on the Rights of Older People convened an expert panel at the Palais des Nations to celebrate the International Day of Older Persons. Speakers from Argentina, the country responsible (with Brazil) for the appointment of the new Independent Expert on the Rights of Older Persons, along with international civil society groups, addressed the challenges and opportunities of the global demographic shift toward older average populations. During the question and comment period, I was able to introduce the topic of the advancing older people’s rights to palliative care and access to pain medicine, neither of which are available to the vast majority of the world’s older people. Official representatives of both Argentina and the US were very supportive of this agenda when we spoke after the panel.

The afternoon Human Rights Council meeting for civil society and all Special Procedures (SPs) also went very well. I made a statement about palliative care and access to opioid analgesics being a crosscutting right that involves SPs on the rights of children, indigenous people, refugees, disabled people, women, and older people. SPs on the right to health, to be free from torture, and to appropriate housing, can also include this right in their thematic and country reports.

The next trip was to Slovenia, where the theme of the Golnik Symposium was Advance Care Planning. My presentation explained the international legal framework obliging UN and EU member states to train providers in conversations regarding palliative and end of life care. While in Slovenia, I met Mateja Kozüh Novak MD, President of the Slovene Federation of Pensioners' Associations, who introduced me to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Karl Erjavec, who is also President of the Democratic Party of Pensioners, which holds 10% of the seats in the parliament. Mr. Erjavec expressed interested in continuing discussions on the possibility of Slovenia proposing a right to palliative care at the Human Rights Council in 2016.

Since the theme of the Hungarian symposium in Pécs was ‘Palliative care for non-cancer conditions’, my presentation addressed the obligations of states under international law to provide palliative care training and opioid analgesics for patients suffering from serious non-malignant conditions. Hungary fully subsidizes opioid medicines for cancer patients, but only partially subsidizes patients having pain as a result of heart disease, stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, AIDS, etc. Since non-cancer disease accounts for more than 50% of Hungarian proportional mortality rates, this is a critical coverage gap. Former IAHPC Board Member and Executive Director of Palliative Medicine, Research, Education at OhioHealth, Dr. Frank Ferris, also presented on palliative care for dementia.


Katherine Pettus, PhD (Hungary.) Dr. Pettus is the IAHPC Advocacy Officer for Human Rights and Palliative Care and serves as the IAHPC liaison to the International Drug Policy Consortium and the Vienna NGO Coalition on Drugs. Read her bio.

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