By Kristin Forner, MD
IAHPC delegate, United Nations Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing; IAHPC Advocacy Focal Point for the United States
In April, I attended the 13th Session Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEGWA) as an Advocacy Focal Point for the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care. The session's focus was on the right to health and access to services, and social inclusion. It was the highlight of my career!
I met people from all over the world who advocate full-time on behalf of older persons, and they are deeply passionate about ensuring older persons receive the rights they deserve. I listened to panelists and member states discuss what matters most to their societies, then witnessed how delegates from international and nongovernmental organizations influenced these discussions. I was struck by the unspoken mores that governed all of these interactions (most notably, respect and good will) and thus acquired new insight into how the hard work of bringing disparate groups together is done.
As this meeting was my first time inside the United Nations, I was also profoundly inspired by the momentous experience of simply gaining access to such an exclusive, formal, and grand building. The United Nations is a place where it seems that only the most powerful have business to attend, and yet there I was sitting in a room that I had only ever seen on the national news.
Back home, my day-to-day clinical work can feel heavy and sorrowful much of the time, and I typically leave the hospital each day having only helped a handful of people. However, in speaking at this kind of forum about the work I do each day, and the impact it has on patients’ hospitalizations and lives, I attempted to influence an audience that was exponentially larger. When given the floor for three minutes, I spoke to the panelists, member states, and international and nongovernmental organizations about my experience at the bedside and why I know palliative care makes a difference.
Prior to this intervention, the words "palliative care" had barely been mentioned during the entire conference. The next day, I participated in a panel discussion with other IAHPC members where we conveyed to 100 participants the benefits of palliative care for older persons in our individual countries.
In attending this conference, I obtained a much greater perspective on the need for palliative care around the world. By expanding my clinical work into the international sphere as I did at the OEWGA, I enabled advocacy work to change my own life (and possibly the trajectory of my career) and to bring catharsis to my day-to-day weightiness in ways I would not have predicted. I encourage anyone with first-hand experience in palliative care, of any kind, to join IAHPC. Begin to advocate with us by applying to join a delegation; the work is not hard, and it has the potential to change countless lives.
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