By Katherine Pettus, PhD
IAHPC Advocacy Officer for Palliative Care Medicines
Last month I introduced you to the new cohort of IAHPC Advocacy Focal Points — from Chile, Colombia, Germany, and India — who have joined the first cohort to hold their governments accountable for agreeing to include palliative care in primary health care under universal health coverage.
When United Nations meetings are held live, in person (as used to be the case!), I and any Advocacy Focal Points (AFPs) who travel to Geneva, Vienna, or New York, meet with Secretariat staff to discuss our collaborations and IAHPC’s advocacy mission. This year all our delegation/staff meetings have been virtual, and an October 15 meeting on the margins of the Special Session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board (EB) Meeting was no exception.
In early October the WHO EB held a special “virtual” session (SS/5) to discuss implementation of World Health Assembly (WHA) Resolution 73/1, which includes a commitment to integrating palliative care into member states’ COVID-19 response, thanks to the Zambia Permanent Mission in Geneva’s persistence and quick thinking during negotiations on the text.
Our Advocacy Focal Points in Zambia, Dr. Joseph Mwate Chaila and Dr. Abidan Chansa, asked their health ministry in Lusaka to ensure the inclusion of palliative care in the WHA resolution and got a positive response! Our other AFPs contacted their government representatives before the special session, informing them about challenges with national palliative care service delivery and asking that they reference the topic in their national statements. Only Australia succeeded in this regard, which was very gratifying for focal point Kate Reed-Cox of Palliative Care Australia. Fiji was the surprise member state to include palliative care in their national statement, so well done them!
Our delegation of six — five members of the new AFP cohort and myself — Zoomed with Secretariat staff Marie-Charlotte Bouesseau, Cherian Varghese, and Dilkushi Poovendran. IAHPC Board Chair Dr. Lukas Radbruch moderated the meeting, and Executive Director Liliana De Lima presented the IAHPC Strategic Plan for Collaboration with the WHO. The agenda is available here. Meeting notes and presentations will also be made available when they are ready.
It was a productive discussion, and we will follow it up with another in the margins of the World Health Assembly, an “expanded” session being held virtually from November 9-14. Our AFPs will remind their governments to flag the centrality of palliative care in their COVID-19 response, and will hold them accountable for their multilateral commitments.
Readers dealing with COVID-19, please consult our resource page, including briefing notes on COVID-19 and palliative care authored by experts. We would also like to remind readers of the excellent WHO Updated Guidance on Clinical Management of COVID-19, published in May.
On November 25, IAHPC will lead a Civil Society Roundtable with WHO Executive Director Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus on how the organization can help member states integrate palliative care into national COVID-19 response and preparedness plans. Details are in the News section. Please follow us on Twitter @IAHPC for the live link to join this event.
The topic of access to palliative care medicines and the lack thereof dominated a rare one-day (“intersessional”) meeting concerning member state implementation of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration and UNGASS Outcome Document.
Five civil society speakers — including Dr. Marta Ximena León from the University of La Sabana in Bogotá, Colombia, and Dr. Mark Mswega from the Palliative Care Association of Uganda — gave expert policy presentations along with the UNODC, WHO, and INCB Secretariats (watch my Advocacy Course if you need acronym translation!). The expert panel included representatives of the International Federation of the Red Cross, and Dr. Tammam Aloudat, Deputy Medical Director of Médecins Sans Frontières, who described the increased scope of humanitarian medical interventions as “long-term,” requiring integration of palliative care with reliable access to palliative care medicines. Ms. Raffaella Ravinetto, a senior researcher at the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium, left participants with the suggestions below.
The Russian Federation gave an interesting presentation on development of palliative care and access to controlled medicines in that country, followed by compelling interventions from Australia, Belgium, and the European Union on the need for global solidarity to improve global access. The INCB and the Government of Switzerland hosted an informative side event over the lunch break to continue discussion of the topic of access. See the event report here.
More videos and information about the day is on the websites of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime and the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC). If your palliative care organization is not already a member of the VNGOC I encourage you to join.
Please let me know if you would like to be more involved in advocacy for essential palliative care medicines in your country. Start by watching our 90-minute introduction to Advocacy Course, which you can break down into bite-sized chunks as your schedule allows!