By Dr. Katherine Pettus, IAHPC Advocacy Officer
The 63rd Session of the Committee on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was held in Vienna, Austria during the first week of March, before the advent of our current new normal of travel bans and lockdowns. It was encouraging to see civil society colleagues and friends from around the world advocating for human-rights-based drug policies that include adequate access to internationally controlled essential medicines such as morphine. More member states than usual mentioned their efforts to improve access to medicines during their national speeches, and several side events were devoted to the topic.
We were also thrilled that Australia, Belgium, and the European Union sponsored a resolution titled, “Promoting awareness-raising, education and training as part of a comprehensive approach to ensuring access to and the availability of internationally controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes and improving their rational use.” The text is available in all UN languages. Delegations from around the world “co-sponsored” the resolution, which urges member states to train their health workforces to improve access. The challenge now is to raise public, civil society, and policymaker awareness about the practical recommendations, and to develop implementation strategies. We partner with the UN Office of Drugs and Crime and the World Health Organization to move these kinds of efforts forward. [Members, check out my free, online advocacy course to learn how the UN institutional framework supports IAHPC advocacy and palliative care delivery.]
Ensuring adequate stocks of essential palliative care medicines controlled under international law, as the CND resolution reminds countries they must do, is more urgent than ever in the COVID-19 era of scarcity-driven triage that will prioritize symptom management or “comfort measures” for the most compromised patients. Opioids are considered an essential treatment for respiratory distress or dyspnea in patients both on and off ventilators. The International Narcotics Control Board issued a circular to all governments alerting them to their responsibility “to ensure the maintenance of sufficient buffer stocks of controlled substances to guarantee availability of those medicines throughout the duration of the pandemic.”
Civil society organizations such as national palliative care associations have a role to play here. Member state delegations at CND meetings usually comprise diplomats from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and officials from Narcotics Control, and do not necessarily have well-functioning communications channels with their counterparts at the Ministry of Health. As a result, word of the INCB circular or CND resolution might not have reached the health policymakers who must estimate and transmit the need for opioids to the drug control authorities. National palliative care associations can send the information in this report up the chain so that various decision makers who can take responsibility for ensuring adequate supplies are adequately informed. I can help readers target their advocacy to this goal.
In other COVID-19 advocacy news, IAHPC is partnering with our sister organizations, the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance, the International Children’s Palliative Care Network, and Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Situations and Emergencies (PALCHASE) to develop a series of expert papers and webinars for providers, governments, palliative care associations, and direct stakeholders. Stay tuned for more information on this evolving project.
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Note: Learn more about Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance and International Children’s Palliative Care Network, IAHPC member institutions, in the IAHPC Global Directory of Palliative Care Institutions.