Advocating for palliative care in Rome

In a follow-up to her previous postKatherine Irene Pettus, PhD, Advocacy Officer, International Association for Hospice & Palliative Care (IAHPC), reports on the 68th WHO Europe Regional Committee Meeting held last week in Rome.

IAHPC Delegation to 68th WHO Europe Regional Committee Meeting in Rome: Katherine Pettus (left) with Giovanna Abbiati.

Although we missed the presence of EAPC’s Julie Ling, the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care delegation, comprising myself and Giovanna Abbiati of the Rome-based global Fondazione Maruzza, received a warm welcome from member states and non-governmental organisation (NGO) colleagues at the RC68 meeting. It is definitely an advantage to attend these annual meetings regularly, as I now know several of the senior Secretariat staff who produce the reports that are discussed on the floor, and am well acquainted with some of the other NGO reps, who also attend regularly. We supported statements of the European Public Health Association (EUPHA), the Council of Occupational Therapists for the European Countries – COTEC, and the World Federation of Society of Anaesthesiologists, and some of our statements were supported by those organisations as well as WONCA Europe.

Giovanna and I submitted written and oral statements on the importance of palliative care in the WHO public health strategy, in Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, and in the Men’s Health Strategy. Three statements, including our comment on the Roadmap on Access to Medicines, were recorded and are on the WHO website. We attended a technical briefing on the launch of a new report on the public health system response to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and on forthcoming United Nations’ High Level events on TB and NCDs, as well as the Jubilee celebration of Alma-Ata 40 in October.  I will be leading the IAHPC delegation to the Astana Global Conference on Primary Care, and am excited to attend the presentation of three new WHO ‘guidance’ documents on palliative care (in primary care, paediatrics, and emergencies The special presentation session will feature Lancet Commissioner, Dr Eric Krakauer, EAPC Primary Care Task Force Co-chairman, Dr Sébastien Moine, and WHO Secretariat Department Head Dr Marie Charlotte Bousseau, among others. (Stay tuned for a report in early November).

Dr Ulana Suprun, Acting Health Minister for Ukraine (right), with Giovanna Abbiati, Fondazione Maruzza.

Ukraine develops first national insurance coverage plan 

The Acting Health Minister for Ukraine, Dr Ulana Suprun, was the only member state delegate to flag the importance of palliative care and access to controlled medicines in her statement during the first plenary. I took the opportunity to interview Dr Suprun about Ukraine’s new public health policy, which is based on three pillars: primary care, emergency medicine, and palliative care. Ukraine’s history of civil society advocacy for, and provision of, palliative care, largely provided by the faith communities, bore fruit as the ministry developed its national insurance coverage plan, which originally did not include palliative care.

Men’s health strategy report

I had not, originally, planned to give an intervention on the Men’s Health Strategy until I attended the side event to launch the report, where I learned a lot about the particular health issues suffered by men, including vulnerable populations such as prisoners, migrants, refugees, and homeless persons. Ninety-five per cent of all prisoners in Europe are men, yet according to the EAPC Task Force on Palliative Care for Prisoners’ literature review, those experiencing serious health-related suffering in prison receive no palliative care, even if they are dying from TB, Hepatitis B, HIV/AIDs or chronic, non-communicable diseases. Our statement emphasized that international and regional human rights law obliges health systems to provide palliative care for vulnerable populations, including prisoners. Several representatives of NGOs, the media, and member states, including the Czech Republic, requested copies of the statement, saying that it touched on aspects of public health they had not previously considered.

The Lancet Commission on Palliative Care Report DeclarAction calls upon:

Countries and the international community to promote equitable access for vulnerable populations groups, including the poor, children, elderly, disabled, mentally ill, indigenous groups, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, migrants, refugees and displaced persons, prisoners, and individuals in complex humanitarian crises.

This is our challenge as palliative care providers and advocates. And it’s why synergistic civil society partnerships across multiple sectors (patients’ groups, the older persons and disability rights communities, the faith community, and the academy, just to name a few), are crucial to advancing our policy agenda so that no one is indeed left behind.

Links and resources

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