FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

New atlas maps unmet need for palliative care worldwide

A new atlas jointly published by the World Health Organization and the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance is the first document to map the unmet need for palliative care, the WHO said on Tuesday.

Palliative care is medical care to relieve the pain, stress and symptoms of serious illness. The "Global atlas of palliative care at the end of life" found that only one in 10 people who need palliative care are receiving it.

Palliative care also includes addressing the emotional, physical and psychosocial suffering of patients with serious advanced illnesses and supporting family members who provide care to their loved ones. Approximately one-third of individuals who need palliative care suffer from cancer. Others have progressive illnesses affecting their organs or life-threatening diseases like HIV and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

It is estimated that more than 20 million patients require palliative care at the end of life. In 2011, approximately three million patients received palliative care with most of the care provided in high-income countries.

"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, the WHO assistant director-general for noncommunicable diseases and mental health, said. "While we strengthen efforts to reduce the burden of the biggest killers in the world today, we must also alleviate the suffering of those with progressive illness who do not respond to curative treatment."

The atlas recommends that all countries include palliative care as an essential part of their healthcare system as they move toward universal healthcare coverage.

"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," David Praill, the co-chair of the WPCA, said. "This will take courage and creativity as we learn from each other how to integrate palliative care into existing but very limited health-care systems."

The WHO is emphasizing the need for palliative care in its Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2013-2020.