By Dr. Katherine I. Pettus, PhD
IAHPC Senior Advocacy and Partnerships Director
February is short, but it was packed with webinars, meetings, and preparations for UN agency meetings. In March, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is convening a session, which I hope to attend in person for the first time in two years! IAHPC is sponsoring a side event on access to controlled medicines in the Caribbean, with IAHPC Board Member Dr. Dingle Spence, Dr. Karen Cox, and other colleagues in the region. We will report on the CND meeting in the April newsletter, as well as two side events on controlled medicines, one of which will feature our Board Chair Dr. Lukas Radbruch and longtime IAHPC member Dr. Gayatri Palak, from India.
An exciting development resulting from the launch of the Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis report was a preliminary meeting between some of its lead authors (Drs. Keith Humphreys, Sean C. Mackey, Chelsea L. Shover, Erin E. Krebs) and Drs. Radbruch and M.R. Rajagopal from the Lancet Commission on Palliative Care and Pain Relief. A follow-up meeting will be held soon to discuss a practical strategy to promote its recommendations on improving access to generic morphine and trained palliative care workers where those are lacking. This strategy, which is one among many, aims to help prevent the North American opioid crisis spreading to other countries. It will also support our advocacy to improve access to public health palliative care services around the world.
As a nonstate actor in official relations with the World Health Organization, IAHPC was invited to the seventh meeting of the Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies. I had attended the previous meetings of this group, which is charged with reporting to the World Health Assembly on the results of the global survey of member states and nonstate actors concerning optimal health system responses and how the WHO governance could most effectively coordinate for the next pandemic. I was invited to take the floor at one point, which gave me the chance to report that IAHPC members from all over the world were experiencing either the suspension or sidelining of palliative care services just when they were most needed. I reiterated our response to the survey—that pandemic preparedness and response must include palliative care alongside therapeutics, vaccines, and diagnostics. It is not an optional luxury and is supported by World Health Assembly Resolution 73/1, which explicitly includes palliative care, thanks to the efforts of Zambia.
February also saw the launch of the The Global Palliative Care and Pain Relief Research Hub webinar series organized by myself, IAHPC member Dr. Billy Rosa, and Board Member Dr. Felicia Knaul. Registration is free of charge and CMEs are available. I strongly suggest you register for the series and watch the recording of the February event. Dr. Knaul presented the latest data on serious health-related suffering, Ms. Smriti Rana presented on the work of Pallium India in the context of the global crisis of lack of access to palliative care, and I presented on the importance of advocacy. View my presentation.The full list of webinar topics and more can be found in the News section.
I submitted IAHPC's brief on the right to justice to the 12th session of the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA) concerning access to justice for prisoners with palliative care needs. I consulted on the Humane Prison Hospice Project brief, found here. IAHPC will field a delegation at OEWGA12, and the Humane Project may convene a side event on its San Quentin project: training prisoners to care for inmates with palliative care needs.
Module 4 of the IAHPC Advocacy Course, “Advocating for the Rights of Older Persons to Palliative Care,” will be online by Friday, March 11. The video that is part of the module was released on March 3, to coincide with the Age with Rights! Global Rally. It is available free of charge on IAHPC’s YouTube channel until May 3. The full module, with resource list and quiz, is housed on the IAHPC website here for members wishing to qualify for a certificate of completion.
We encourage our members who provide palliative care services for older persons at all levels (community, clinic, hospital, tertiary) to register with the World Health Organization’s Civil Society Mapping and Engagement Initiative for the Decade. This is a unique opportunity to identify and unite diverse organizations that have an interest and responsibility to create an environment enabling older persons to do what they value. This includes the palliative care sector, which often adds much life to the days of older persons and helps them to participate optimally in their families, communities, and employment when their symptoms are properly relieved and they are supported in tackling serious illness.
Go here for more information about the project, and resources to help you promote it. (Note: The website is available in English, French, and Spanish.)
In February, the Pontifical Academy for Life (Pal-Life) held a three-day meeting to “improve dissemination of palliative care in the world.” Global, regional, and national palliative care experts participated, including ATLANTES Director Dr. Carlos Centeno and Dr. Thomas Sitte, who are both IAHPC members. A report of the meeting can be found here. IAHPC was very active in the group that met several times in Rome in 2019 and produced the White Book for Palliative Care Advocacy. In his Wednesday audience on February 9, Pope Francis referenced the importance of palliative care for all persons who need it.
“Two considerations stand for us Christians. The first: we cannot avoid death, and precisely for this reason, after having done everything that is humanly possible to cure the sick, it is immoral to engage in overzealous treatment (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2278). That phrase of the faithful people of God, of the simple people: “Let him die in peace”, “help him to die in peace”: such wisdom! The second consideration instead concerns the quality of death itself, the quality of pain, of suffering. Indeed, we must be grateful for all the help that medicine is striving to give, so that through “palliative care,” every person who is preparing to live the last stretch of their life can do so in the most humane way possible.”
As spiritual care is an essential component of interdisciplinary palliative care, and as a non-denominational, secular charity, IAHPC supports advocacy with all faith leaders, encouraging them to celebrate palliative care as an essential service. We realize that many need to be sensitized to the topic in order to overcome misconceptions about palliative care.
The global palliative care movement was in evidence at a webinar in Gaza on February 26 at an event organized by Haytham Abu-Senjar, an oncology nurse at European Gaza Hospital. I spoke about advocacy along with IAHPC Board Member Dr. Hibah Osman, former Board Member Dr. Mhoira Leng, Dr. Hammoda Abu-Odah, and Dr. Khamis Elessie. The webinar was co-organized with We Are Not Numbers. The Zoom recording is available here: use this passcode: q3HBus&0.
IAHPC Advocacy Focal Points from Argentina, Australia, Burkina Faso, India, Malaysia, and Zambia joined a Zoom meeting to discuss how to expand effective training of health care workers in palliative care. Ms. Smriti Rana from Pallium India presented on the multi-partner PalliCovid Kerala initiative, kicking off a productive discussion about how to spread awareness and stimulate demand for palliative care education, both official and ad hoc. We will have another meeting next month to discuss advocacy for formal, accredited, palliative care education. Please contact me if you are interested in joining this important initiative.
To learn more about Pallium India and the ATLANTES, visit the IAHPC Global Directory of Palliative Care Institutions and Organizations.