By Katherine Pettus, PhD.
Representative of IAHPC to the International Drug Policy Consortium and the Vienna NGO Coalition
On January 23, 2014 the World Health Organization Executive Board (WHO EB) sitting in Geneva passed a historic resolution urging member states to strengthen palliative care “as a component of integrated treatment within the continuum of care.”
To read the WHO resolution click here.
The resolution was sponsored by Panama, which has some wonderful palliative care champions like Dr. Rosa Buitrago, pharmacist and Dr. Gaspar Da Costa, who coordinates the palliative care program for the Ministry of Health in the country. Panama certainly found the “sweet spot” issue in palliative care, a medical discipline many journalists and diplomats had never heard of before this month, but whose time, clearly, had come. The stars aligned in Geneva in January, and palliative care found more than enough support from member states whose representatives spoke out eloquently on the floor in favor of the resolution, which passed unanimously.
Diederick Lohmann of Human Rights Watch, who has done much of the heavy lifting on this for a number of years, led the stellar “advance team” supporting Panama at the WHO, with colleagues Stephen Connor of The World Palliative Care Alliance, who has also been in the trenches for the long haul and is celebrating the release of the Global Atlas of Palliative Care.
It was an honor to be with them in Geneva for a few days, observe the general sessions, go to some of the briefings, and observe the “Diederick tweeting sessions” that went out to keep the world informed of moment to moment developments in the progress of the resolution.
Ensuring adequate provision of medical opioids (substances controlled under international law) for medical and scientific purposes and the relief of pain and suffering is a treaty-mandated task of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.
To read a paper I wrote on access to essential medicines for the Global Drug Policy Observatory, click here.
This goal has been sacrificed to the mission of prohibition for too long, at the expense of millions of patients and families worldwide. A small group of dedicated NGOs, and member states, is trying to restore the drug control treaties’ key function of provision to build a healthy and productive relationship between member state representatives in Vienna (the drug warriors) and their counterparts in Geneva (the health and human rights avatars).
IAHPC is co-sponsoring a side event at the annual Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna on March 18, entitled “Physicians Envision Healthier Drug Policies,” with the London based International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies (http://www.idhdp.org). The panel will address the issue of access to essential medicines for palliative care and harm reduction, and will feature Dr. Lukas Radbruch, Chairman of the Board of IAHPC, as well as Dr. Michel Kazatchkine of The Global Commission on Drug Policy, and Dr. Khuat Thi Hai Oanh, a prominent Vietnamese physician who works on HIV/AIDS, harm reduction, and stigma in Southeast Asia. Lithuania is sponsoring this side event. We hope to post video and a report on that event in late March. In the meantime, I will be going to the Indian Palliative Care Conference in Bhubaneshwar to speak on international law and access to medicines and to visit the hospices and palliative care work of dear colleagues in South India and Bangalore.
Stay tuned for more exciting reports from the palliative care fronts in Geneva and Vienna!