Palliative Care Could Save More Than Just Lives

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February 28th, 2014

Palliative CareIt was announced in January by the World Health Organization, in conjunction with the World Palliative Care Association, that a resolution to expand Palliative Care access throughout the world will be confirmed at the World Health Assembly in May.

The proposal would do more than just expand access to such treatments; it could also be critical in lowering spending & costs across global healthcare systems. By determining patient preferences in their treatments and coordinating care effectively, many healthcare systems could reduce the number of unnecessary readmissions, treatments, and diagnoses.

How? Because Palliative Care offers more than just pain relief. It is patient-centered and can often address physical, psychosocial and emotional suffering for many patients and their families fighting serious illnesses. The problem is, palliative care is only readily-available in wealthier countries and is normally administered to the elderly.

Barriers Restricting Access to Palliative Care

Currently, there are an estimated 40 million people worldwide requiring palliative care treatments. 50% of those individuals are elderly patients seeking end-of-life care, while 6% are children. The more alarming fact, however, is that 6.5 million of these patients will die without ever receiving the palliative care treatments they require.

The resolution proposed by the WPCA is seen as a way to drastically reduce these numbers, specifically by expanding access to lower- and middle-class individuals worldwide. A WPCA Spokesman stated, “Our efforts to expand palliative care need to focus on bringing relief of suffering and the benefits of palliative care to those with the least resources.”

Today, only 20 countries offer sufficient palliative care access through their healthcare systems – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States of America.

Furthermore, a 2011 study by the WPCA found that 74% of countries have no palliative care services or their services reach only a small percentage of the population, while only 3 Million people actually received the care they required.

This is a result of multiple barriers restricting the delivery of palliative care services and treatments. Some of these include:

  • Lack of clearly defined regulations and policies promoting access to palliative care for various age groups and patient types.
  • Lack of palliative care education amongst healthcare professionals and the public.
  • Lack of access to resources for palliative care providers and national healthcare systems.
  • The misconception of associating palliative care with elderly patients and hospice care.

Implementing a Resolution

The WPCA hopes to break these barriers by urging those countries with poor palliative care services to expand access to pain medicines and treatments for life-threatening illnesses. The pain associated with such illnesses can be treated with relatively inexpensive medicines.

Additionally, an increase in technical assistance and training of healthcare workers, under the supervision of the WHO & WPCA could dramatically decrease the amount of unnecessary treatments issued to patients that are not only seeking pain relief.

The proposed resolution is built around effective integration of palliative care amongst national health systems, and could also encourage more patient-centered care while avoiding aggressive or costly treatments.

It has been drafted under the leadership of Panama and co-sponsored by Albania, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Japan, Lebanon, Libya, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, and the US.

As for now, we must wait until May to see where the next step lies ahead for Palliative Care services across the globe.

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