Policy & Advocacy

Volume 23, Number 11: November 2022

Building a World Free from Health-Related Suffering One Lecture at a Time

By Katherine I. Pettus, PhD
IAHPC Senior Advocacy and Partnerships Director

IAHPC budget constraints dictated that all my October conference presentations be online. The month began with the celebration of World Hospice & Palliative Care Day at a conference in Amritsar, India, hosted by the National Association of Palliative Care for AYUSH & Integrative Medicine, an IAHPC institutional member. I then teleported to a World Day presentation in Kazakhstan, where IAHPC Board Member Dr. Gulnara Kunirova requested—and was given—a plenary speech for an audience that included government ministers. I prepared the slides in Russian (thanks to DeepL online translator), then recorded the presentation that was projected with live Russian interpretation!

On the Latin American continent, my friend and colleague Dr. Elizabeth Díaz, president of the Peruvian Society for Palliative Care, invited to me to lecture on the global normative framework that supports palliative care. The lecture was for her class of doctors from other medical disciplines at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia working toward their master’s degrees. Finally, Chilean physicians Pablo Yeager and Kelly San Martín invited me to present at the National Day of Palliative Care (Jornada Nacional de Cuidados Paliativos) hosted by the Ministry of Health in Santiago, on the topic “Building a world free from health-related suffering” (Construyendo un mundo libre de sufrimiento relacionado a la salud), which is IAHPC’s vision.

Important human rights mandate renewed

“The absence or low availability of adequate medical care, especially of palliative care, in care settings has also raised concerns. The denial of palliative care and pain relief is a human right violation, as recognized by international and regional experts. Poor or limited health care, as well as limited access to essential medication and other support, have been exacerbated during COVID-19 lockdowns and have had a disproportionate impact on older persons deprived of liberty in care facilities.”

—from “Older Persons Deprived of Liberty” report, Dr. Claudia Mahler

I am delighted to announce that the Human Rights Council renewed the mandate of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Dr. Claudia Mahler. This is great news for palliative care advocates around the world, as we have been working with Dr. Mahler, and her predecessor, Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, for many years on the right of older persons to palliative care. Dr. Mahler submits thematic and country reports, most recently “Older Persons Deprived of Liberty,” a report that references the need for palliative care for prisoners and residents in care. Dr. Mahler’s next official trip is to Bangladesh, where she will meet with IAHPC Advocacy Focal Points Drs. Farzana Khan and Rumana Dowla.

73rd meeting of the Western Pacific committee

As a nonstate actor in official relations with the World Health Organization, we are invited to attend the annual World Health Assembly and most regional committee meetings. (See the October issue for my report on the European regional meeting.) Our delegation for the 73rd session of the Western Pacific regional committee held in Manila included two members from the Philippines, Dr. Rumalie Corvera and nurse Edmar Elcarte, and two members from Australia, Drs. Odette Spruijt and Leeroy William. All delegates prepared two-minute videos on different agenda items: cervical cancer, reaching the unreached, primary care, and noncommunicable diseases. View them on our YouTube channel. Links to IAHPC’s official submissions are posted on our advocacy page. Our delegates sent these statements and videos to their national delegations in attendance, and monitored the meeting to see if palliative care was discussed, as per their recommendations. I will include an update in December’s newsletter, as the meeting was held at the end of October, too late to include in this issue.

Historic side event on palliative care at EMRO

The 69th session of the WHO Regional Committee of the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO) hosted a historic side event on palliative care featuring two IAHPC board members: Dr. Hibah Osman, who gave the plenary speech, and Dr. Ebtesam (Sammi) Ahmed, who presented on the role of pharmacists. IAHPC member Dr. Hammoda Abu-Odah from Gaza gave an excellent presentation on the challenges of providing palliative care in the occupied territory. In August, EMRO published a special issue on palliative care in its Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, edited by Drs. Osman and Eric Krakauer. We are very proud of them all.

Improving access to controlled medicines

IAHPC Board Chair Dr. Lukas Radbruch and Board Member Dr. Felicia Knaul participated in a special event on improving availability of internationally controlled essential medicines in Vienna (Lukas by video link, Felicia in person) at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna. This was the last high-level event of the year on the topic, thanks to Ambassador Ghislain D’hoop, chair of the CND, who made the issue a priority for his 2022 term. #NoPatientLeftBehind campaign events in Vienna, Geneva, and New York on availability and access have been the culmination of years of IAHPC advocacy on this topic. Now the challenge is to sustain the issue of availability in ongoing drug policy debates.

The right to conscientious objection to assisted dying upheld

Lifetime Member Dr. Maria Cigolini represented the IAHPC and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine (ANZSPAM) at the World Medical Association (WMA) annual meeting in Berlin. Dr. Cigolini advocated successfully that WMA maintain its ethical position on the right of health care professionals to exercise their right to conscientious objection on participation in assisted dying procedures, such as euthanasia. The IAHPC will be joining WMA, and recommends the same for our members who are physicians, medical students, or national palliative care associations. (FYI, students and doctors within five years of graduating can join for free.)

The WMA’s Declaration of Venice on End of Life Medical Care states that it “remains firmly opposed to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide,” as per the WMA Declaration on Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide. See also the IAHPC’s position statement on assisted dying practices.

Stay tuned for more advocacy news in December!

Do you have any comments or questions about this piece or our advocacy program?

Contact Dr. Katherine Pettus

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