Policy and Advocacy

2020; Volume 21, No 3, March

IAHPC Advocacy at the WHO Executive Board Meeting and Beyond

By Dr. Katherine Pettus, IAHPC Advocacy Officer

The IAHPC delegation for the 146th meeting of the WHO Executive Board comprised Dr. Natalia Arias Casais from Spain and Dr. Rumana Dowla from Bangladesh. The weekend before, Dr. Casais chaired a panel and gave a presentation on the global health issue of improving access to internationally controlled essential palliative care medicines at the G2H2 meeting for civil society organizations.

Dr. Casais summed up her experience at the WHO EB146, which took place February 3-8:

“I was honored to lead the IAHPC delegation at WHO headquarters in Geneva. My main tasks were advocating for the IAHPC policy agenda with delegates of WHO Member States, delivering the IAHPC statement on relevant agenda items in plenary, discussing the proposal to create a Group of Friends of Palliative and Long-Term Care with Zambia and Australia delegates (in their capacity as members of the Executive Board), and updating IAHPC’s WHO focal points — Dr. Gilles Forte and Dr. Marie Charlotte Bouësseau — regarding the IAHPC advocacy agenda. Rumana and I also asked Member State delegates to consider sponsoring a palliative care nursing side event at the World Health Assembly in May. The IAHPC advocacy team (Liliana and Katherine) briefed us and guided us throughout the process.”

Palliative care delegation at the WHO (left to right): Dr. Rumana Dowla; Dr. Stephen Connor, Executive Director of the WHPCA; and Dr. Natalia Arias Casais. Photo used with permission.
EU & others pitch for PC

The WHO Executive Board session was webcast and we were delighted to hear the European Union, Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, and Tonga mention palliative care in the context of their national interventions on primary health care and universal health coverage. This increased official airtime for palliative care reflects the successful integration of the term into the 2018 Declaration of Astana on Primary Health Care and the 2019 Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage.

Prep is crucial to success

The increased airtime for palliative care at the WHO EB meeting shows the benefit of in-person preparatory advocacy and communications between palliative care professionals and government representatives both at home and at international meetings. This groundwork allows the advocacy circle that begins with relationship building to be completed when member state delegates at meetings, such as the WHO EB, reference national palliative care challenges and benefits during plenary discussions. This encourages other Member States, and demonstrates that governments are willing to be accountable for their palliative care commitments. Most of the advocacy work is done well before these big meetings, at offices in the health ministries in your capitals. Your delegates’ statements have been carefully crafted by senior strategists. It is important to make contact with delegates to ensure that palliative care is included in all drafts, including the final one.

An opportunity missed

Unfortunately, the words “palliative care” were largely absent from Member State interventions on the topic of Healthy Ageing. IAHPC joined the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance in a statement on the Decade of Healthy Ageing, which we insist should include palliative care. Member States, the Secretariat, and relevant NGOs seem to prefer the term “long-term care,” which is a pillar of the Healthy Aging Decade. We suggest the phrase “long-term and palliative care.” The Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health will be discussed and probably approved by the World Health Assembly in May. We will email an advocacy note to you for sharing with ministry contacts in advance of the WHA.

World Day of the Sick

On February 11, World Day of the Sick, IAHPC shared the message of Pope Francis, which mentioned palliative care:

“There are so many kinds of grave suffering: incurable and chronic diseases, psychological diseases, situations calling for rehabilitation or palliative care, numerous forms of disability, children’s or geriatric diseases… At times human warmth is lacking in our approach to these. What is needed is a personalized approach to the sick, not just of curing but also of caring, in view of an integral human healing.”

What does your faith say about caring for the sickest and most vulnerable among us? Please write and let us know.

Public hearing on
access to medicines

IAHPC participated in the February 19 public hearing on the proposed WHO guideline on Ensuring Balanced National Policies for Access and Safe Use of Controlled Medicines, currently in the consultation phase. Our statement, and that of Board Chair Dr. Lukas Radbruch, can be found here. [Dr. Radbruch’s feature story also touches on this guideline.] All 35 written statements from palliative care associations all over the world are here.

Delegation to CND meeting

The IAHPC delegation for the 63rd meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna will comprise myself, Dr. Ebtesam Ahmed from St. John’s College in New York, and Ms. Heloísa Broggiato, who works in Brazil and Switzerland. Dr. Ahmed will speak at a side event on the Model Drug Law for West Africa, and Ms. Broggiato will speak at a high-level side event sponsored by Belgium and Australia on improving access to controlled medicines.

Stay tuned for next month’s report, which will include an update on the CND’s consideration of a resolution on improving access to controlled medicines sponsored by Australia, Belgium, and the EU. If successful, this resolution will help advocates to work with their governments to improve rational access.

Access to Justice

IAHPC will attend the 11th Session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing in New York, April 5-8. The topics are “Access to Justice” and “Right to Work and Access to the Labor Market.” Access to justice is important for advocates wishing to file official complaints about lack of access to public health palliative care and essential medicines.

Apply to join our delegations

We welcome your application to join our delegations at the World Health Assembly in Geneva (May 18-22) and the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing in New York (April 5-8). For the time being these are self-funded, as IAHPC does not yet have the capacity to support the travel and per diem of non-staff delegation members. The presence of palliative care professionals on our delegations increases our visibility and credibility in the eyes of both Member States and the various Secretariats.


And don’t forget to take our new course, Advocating for Palliative Care in the Multilaterial System (Basic),
to help you develop palliative care in your country. It’s free for members!



Do you have any comments or questions about this piece or our advocacy program?

Contact Dr. Katherine Pettus



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