By Dr. Katherine I. Pettus, PhD
IAHPC Advocacy Officer for Palliative Care Medicines
May advocacy began by clarifying the Joint Action Plan on Palliative Care, which we are developing as a “live document” with the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus requested this plan at our first civil society dialogue in November 2020 and reiterated the request at our second session with him in February. IAHPC is working with our sister organizations, the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance and the International Children’s Palliative Care Network, on this campaign to raise awareness about palliative care across all divisions of the WHO, and to build programs to member states desiring to integrate palliative care into their national health systems.
Several of our Advocacy Focal Points (AFPs)—Dr. María Adelaida Córdoba, from Colombia; IAHPC research advisor Dr. Tania Pastrana; Dr. Rumana Dowla, from Bangladesh; and Ms. Monica Do Coutto Monni, from Canada—participated in the 74th World Health Assembly. Being a delegate involves monitoring the deliberations at the assembly in real time and standing by to give a one-minute statement (a palliative care haiku!) based on our written submission should the moderator call on us to take the floor.
Despite our having raised the profile of palliative care with DG Tedros in the civil society dialogues, the World Health Assembly’s experiment with new modalities supposed to “enhance” civil society participation has actually reduced palliative care’s airtime at WHA74, a key global health governing body attended virtually by representatives of member states. Dr. María Adelaida Córdoba took the floor to give our intervention on pandemic response and local production of controlled medicines, and we contributed text to the constituency statement coordinated and posted to the WHA74 website by the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA). The statement calls on member states to develop regional hubs to manufacture and distribute government-procured essential controlled medicines, vaccines, and other substances. Essential palliative care medicines are running short or are in stockout in much of the world as pharmaceutical supply chains break under the stress of pandemic-related demand.
The assembly approved a decision proposing a UN General Assembly Special Session to discuss a global pandemic response framework treaty in November. IAHPC will participate in this process and advocate for inclusion of access to palliative care and essential palliative care medicines in the stipulations of any such treaty. Stay tuned.
We were very proud that the Stakeholder Group on Ageing (a civil society body recognized by the UN) selected Dr. Simone Cernesi, an IAHPC member and geriatrician in Modena, Italy, to provide virtual testimony at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals in New York. As one of four representatives to speak on the needs of older persons, Dr. Cernesi asked, “How can we reduce inequality and protect the vulnerable without solid primary care? Sustainable Development Goal 3 is about good health and well-being. I would like to underline that well-being means being free from futile pain and living well to the end. How can we leave no one behind if primary care is not valued also in terms of human resources? Certainly having home care teams with basic palliative care skills would have made this pandemic less devastating.” His full statement can be found here.
In May, I gave two presentations at virtual workshops for Western Pacific Region members of IAHPC: one for the Australasian Palliative Care Link (see my slides here), the other for the Western Pacific Palliative Care Advocacy Network (see my slides here). A full report on the workshop by coordinator Dr. Odette Spruijt can be found here. As the Joint Plan on Palliative Care with WHO recommends delegating more responsibility fo palliative care integration to WHO’s regional offices, it will be key to develop strong regional advocacy networks to provide technical support to them and to country offices. The IAHPC will launch a 10-module advocacy course for our members beginning in July, and will host the current 90-minute, members-only advocacy course on our YouTube channel for general viewing.
Last but not least, I was privileged to attend the launch of the Zambia Palliative Care Strategy on May 26, an event led by Zambia’s Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kennedy Malama, and WHO Representative for Zambia, Dr. Nathan Nsubuga Bakyaita, among other senior officials. Dr. Bakyaita emphasized the holistic nature of palliative care and the fact that only 14% of people who need it globally can access it. “What makes this document special is that palliative care services will be integrated at all levels of the health system right from the community,” he said. “On behalf of the UN family, I wish to congratulate the MoH and all the partners who participated in bringing this document to light.” He also reiterated WHO’s support for the national strategy, which he said was a practical way of implementing the 2014 WHA Resolution 67/19. Dr. Abidan Chansa and Dr. Mwate Chaila, both Advocacy Focal Points for the IAHPC in Zambia, were main drivers of this strategy, and IAHPC was privileged to be invited to attend the virtual event. We encourage our members to review Zambia’s National Palliative Care Strategic Plan 2021-2026 with a view to seeing if it could help with their work. A recording of the livestream is here.
Learn more about Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance, the International Children’s Palliative Care Network, and the Australasian Palliative Care Link, listed in the IAHPC Global Directory of Palliative Care Institutions and Organizations.