WHO: Expand global access to palliative care

Only 10 percent of people who need palliative care actually get it worldwide, according to a new atlas from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance.

Of these people, about one-third have cancer, reports the inaugural Global Atlas of Palliative Care at the End of Life. Other patients whose needs often go unmet include those with progressive illnesses affecting the heart, liver, kidney, lungs or brain, and chronic diseases, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis or HIV, according to the atlas.

"The atlas shows that the great majority of the global need of end-of-life care is associated with noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung diseases," Oleg Chestnov, M.D., WHO assistant director-general for noncommunicable diseases and mental health, said in an announcement.

In 2011, about 3 million patients received palliative care, most of them receiving it at the end of their lives, according to the announcement. The majority of palliative care is provided in high-income countries, according to the atlas, but almost 80 percent of the need is concentrated in low- and middle-income countries.

The atlas calls for action against palliative care barriers worldwide, such as:

  • Lack of clearly-defined policies on the need for palliative care at various stages of life;

  • Lack of palliative care education among healthcare professionals, community volunteers and members of the general public; and

  • Lack of access to resources, such as pain relievers.

A recent study found that healthcare workers with palliative care training produced better patient outcomes, while similar research found that patient-centered palliative care also results in happier patients and lower costs, FierceHealthcare previously reported. One major obstacle to implementation is the stigma that associates palliative care with end-of-life and hospice care. There are also few palliative care-trained doctors, as the practice was only declared a medical specialty six years ago.

To learn more:
- here's the atlas (.pdf)
- read the announcement