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Another step along the road to global palliative care

Published 07 Oct 2015

Yesterday’s report on the quality of end-of-life care by the Economist is a welcome addition to the growing wave of evidence supporting the value of good palliative care.

I followed the coverage on radio throughout the day, and whilst I’m delighted to hear palliative care mentioned in the news headlines, it remains a frustration that the focus has been on specialist and hospice palliative care services. As demand continues to increase, the challenges for palliative care providers across the world are to develop new and better ways of providing general palliative care, and in introducing palliative care earlier in a person’s illness. As my colleague, Dr Stephen Connor, of the the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance, rightly points out in the BBC article: "The biggest problem that persists is that our healthcare systems are designed to provide acute care when what we need is chronic care. That's still the case almost everywhere in the world."

Coincidentally, I’ve also just been reading a draft evaluation on the impact of palliative care on poverty reduction that EMMS International has done with our partner in India, Emmanuel Hospital Association. This confirms the huge benefits that palliative care can make to the well-being of people living with a terminal illness and their families. I use well-being deliberately. The benefits of palliative care go beyond health, and include things such as economic, social, psychological and spiritual well-being.

The Economist Intelligence Unit report highlights the challenges of improving access across the world, and that most of the best services remain concentrated in richer countries. EMMS International and many others are working hard to improve palliative care in poorer countries like Malawi, India and Nepal, as well as contributing to the global movement advocating for good palliative care for all.

Whilst the needs are great, we are making progress, and can be inspired by successes like those of our colleagues in places like Uganda who have done much to improve the access to pain relief for terminally ill people there. We are excited about a new EMMS International project that has just started in Malawi to deliver a step change improvement to palliative care across large parts of the country, as well as a recently completed project that helped to lay the foundations for this (Providing Palliative Care).

We face a long path to delivering the World Health Assembly resolution on making palliative care available to everyone, but every step forward is also a step closer.