January 25, 2014
On January 23, 2014, the Executive Board of the World Health Organization adopted a resolution urging countries to ensure access to pain medicines and palliative care for people with life-threatening illnesses.
According to Human Rights Watch, more than 6.5 million people are estimated to die each year without any access to pain medicines, almost all in low- and middle-income countries. Some 40 million people each year require palliative care for relief of pain and other symptoms. However, a 2011 study by the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance found that an astonishing 74% of countries have no palliative care services or services that reach only a small percentage of the population.
“The WHO resolution on palliative care is a real breakthrough,” said Diederik Lohman, senior health researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It clearly and unambiguously recognizes the obligation of all countries to make sure no one needlessly suffers from pain and other debilitating symptoms.”
The resolution urges countries to integrate palliative care into their health-care systems, to improve training for health-care workers, and to ensure that relevant medicines, including strong pain medicines, are available to patients. It also urges WHO to increase its technical assistance to member countries on the development of palliative care services. The resolution must still be confirmed at the World Health Assembly in May before it becomes final.
From 2010 to 2012 IFHHRO was involved in an international campaign (Stop Torture in Health Care) that focused among others on pain management as a human right. Three years ago, we published a position statement on access to adequate pain treatment, which provided input for a World Medical Association resolution on access to adequate pain treatment.