By Katherine Pettus, PhD
IAHPC Advocacy Officer for Palliative Care Medicines
On November 25, IAHPC board members and global partners “met” with the World Health Organization’s Director General, Dr. Ghebreyesus Tedros, at a historic civil society roundtable on palliative care attended online by more than 250 participants. Dr. Tedros and his staff responded to panelists’ interventions and requests for the WHO to take specific steps to raise the profile of palliative care in WHO work.
The roundtable was one of a series of WHO dialogues between Dr. Tedros and global health civil society organizations to discuss COVID-19 response. Organized by the IAHPC, together with the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA) and the International Federation on Ageing, the virtual event brought Dr. Tedros and senior WHO staff together with palliative care practitioners from around the world.
The roundtable also included disability and palliative care patient spokesperson Lucy Watts, Young Avenger for Together for Short Lives and the first Global Youth Ambassador for the International Children’s Palliative Care Network (ICPCN). Lucy’s advocacy as a WHPCA member at WHO meetings has evolved into a warm friendship with Dr. Tedros, who paid tribute to her several times during the session. She told roundtable participants that:
“I am a palliative care patient, living far beyond my prognosis. I am privileged to live in a country where I have access to all the health care, palliative care, and medicines I need, including throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I know that millions of people experiencing palliative care needs and serious health-related suffering around the world do not have access to the care they need, and are not heard by policy makers, health ministers, and people who can change their lives by signing off a different budget or adding an indicator.”
Dr. Lukas Radbruch, chair of the IAHPC Board of Directors, moderated the two panels of experts and responses from WHO staff. The first, which addressed the crisis of availability of access to essential palliative care medicines, comprised IAHPC Board Member Dr. Felicia Knaul for Tómatelo a Pecho, an organization based in Mexico that works to reduce breast cancer mortality in the region, and Ms. Rose Kiwanuka, a nurse and former executive director of the Palliative Care Association of Uganda.
Speakers in the second panel addressed the palliative care needs of “underserved populations,” such as older persons, children, persons with chronic and noncommunicable diseases, and patients with palliative care needs. The panelists were: Dr. Ednin Hamzah from Hospis Malaysia; Dr. Julia Downing, executive director the ICPCN; Dr. Dingle Spence for CARIPALCA (the Caribbean Palliative Care Association); Ms Harmala Gupta Founder and President of CanSupport, a home care service for patients in India; and Dr. Stephen Connor, executive director of the WHPCA. Dr. Connor shared his time with Lucy Watts, who spoke about how palliative care provided through the United Kingdom’s National Health Service had made it possible for her to live a productive, fulfilling, and much longer life than predicted when she was first diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder.
Dr. Tedros responded with some heartfelt statements and generous commitments to all the presentations and questions on how the WHO could do more to raise palliative care’s profile across the organization and with member states.
These commitments included writing personally to heads of state, beginning with Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who has been appointed to co-chair the One Health Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), and allocating some of WHO’s budget to development of an organizational strategic plan. The letters will stress the value of palliative care and the urgent need for WHO member states to include it in their COVID-19 response, as well as in future preparedness planning, through integration into primary health care.
I am preparing a report on the meeting that will include all the interventions of the speakers, questions in the Zoom chatbox, and commitments made by Dr. Tedros. I will share this report as soon as it is finalized and upload it to our website.
IAHPC member Ms. Heloisa Broggiato represented IAHPC at the Reconvened Session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, held on December 2-4. Ms. Broggiato’s statement addressed the importance of strengthening supply chains for internationally controlled essential medicines for palliative care. The Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs selected Ms. Broggiato as one of four civil society speakers on various agenda items at the session.
The event occurred before this newsletter went to press, but her statement can be found here.
On Dec 3-4 the UN General Assembly held a special session on COVID. IAHPC Board Member Harmala Gupta read this statement and the expert panel was asked this question.
To learn more about Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA), the International Children’s Palliative Care Network (ICPCN), the Palliative Care Association of Uganda (PCAU), the Hospis Malaysia, and the Caribbean Palliative Care Association (CARIPALCA) visit the IAHPC Global Directory of Palliative Care Institutions and Organizations.