Palliative care airtime at the WHO Euro Committee Meeting in Rome

Katherine Irene Pettus, PhD, Advocacy Officer International Association for Hospice & Palliative Care (IAHPC), prepares for an important WHO meeting starting in Rome today… 

Katherine Irene Pettus

The 68th WHO Europe Regional Committee (RC38) meeting in Rome (September 17-21) will consider several important reports and resolutions including on Public health, Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, and Child and Adolescent Health. As a “non-state actor” (civil society) organisation in official relations with the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC), is entitled to participate in the RC38 meeting, and to submit oral and written statements on the agenda items. IAHPC and other civil society organisations, have submitted oral and written comments on at least two agenda items that should include palliative care but do not. These comments will be posted on the RC38 website for member states to review and consider, and will become part of the record of the meeting. 

To prepare for a meeting like this, I first review the agenda and identify which documents should include palliative care. Then I analyse the documents or reports, which almost never mention palliative care, and draft a statement describing how palliative care is relevant to the issue at hand. The statement references what WHO palliative care policy is, and how palliative care can contribute to improved public health outcomes in the member states.

Collaborating with other professional organisations

An important part of the preparation process is collaboration between the non-state actors registered to attend the meeting. Before the submission deadline, we send our statements to the attendee list, requesting comments and endorsement. The European Public Health Association (EUPHA) sent out the first statement on the Public Health Background Document, Advancing public health for sustainable development in the WHO European Region. We commented on it and endorsed it when EUPHA included palliative care language.

Likewise, the IAHPC written statement on the public health document has now been endorsed by EUPHA, the International Union of Toxology, the Council of Occupational Therapists for the European Countries – COTEC, the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) and the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA).

The IAHPC statement focuses on the fact that the public health and non-communicable diseases strategies and narratives are incomplete when they focus only on prevention and promotion. We make the point that a complete public health strategy must include appropriate treatment and palliation, as per the WHO’s own definition of Universal Health Coverage.  A key paragraph in our statement reads:

“The RC68 Background Documents rightful emphasis on early detection and prevention is incomplete. It must be balanced with attention to palliative care for all inhabitants of the EURO region, including particularly vulnerable populations such as migrants, refugees, prisoners, and homeless persons who suffer from communicable, non-communicable, and chronic diseases. It is time that the global public health community, whose focus, quite rightly, has been on maternal child health and epidemics, adds public health palliative care to the policy agenda. Managing chronic illness with community based, public health palliative care reduces health system costs and improves quality of life of patients, families and communities. The evidence demonstrates that this is a fair and equitable solution.”

Photo: Alexei and Dascha, Belarus Children’s Hospice. Photograph courtesy of Katherine Pettus.

Paediatric palliative care

The Child and Adolescent Health Strategy produced by the RC38 Secretariat to be discussed in Rome, made no mention of cancer, palliative care, suicide, or substance use dependence disorder, all pressing pediatric global health issues. IAHPC delegation member Giovanna Abbiati, Project Manager for the Rome based Maruzza Foundation, drafted the IAHPC statement, which addresses the need to include palliative care head on:

 “We are surprised that the document does not include the need to develop palliative care policies to meet the needs of children and adolescents in the EURO region. IAHPC takes a rights-based approach to palliative care, which emphasizes that these children and their families are a particularly vulnerable group. Children with palliative care needs suffer from a broad range of heterogeneous conditions that require interdisciplinary, holistic interventions tailored to meet the individual child and their family.”

We look forward to a lively and productive meeting and will do our best to ensure that the benefits of palliative care are mentioned in the outcome documents. One day, if we do our job well, palliative care will be routinely included in all the reports, and we can concentrate on implementation.

Join us!

Next year’s EURO meeting will be in Copenhagen. IAHPC is always interested in including palliative care practitioners to advocate in our delegations at WHO’s regional meetings such as RC68, so let us know in advance if you if you would like to join our delegation.

Links and resources


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