Published on: May 22, 2020

The World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of WHO, in their annual meeting on 18 and 19 May 2020, committed governments to deliver palliative care services alongside safe testing and treatment for COVID-19.

The WHA asks governments to “provide access to safe testing, treatment, and palliative care for COVID-19, paying particular attention to the protection of those with pre-existing health conditions, older persons, and other people at risk, in particular health professionals, health workers and other relevant frontline workers.” (Operative Paragraph 7.7) The resolution also calls for equitable access to medicines and vaccines.

Palliative care is the prevention and management of serious health related suffering for the patient and family. It treats pain, breathlessness and other symptoms and addresses emotional, social and spiritual suffering. Understandably, it has huge relevance, considering the burden of suffering in COVID-19.

Way back in 2014 the World Health Assembly had asked all member countries to integrate Palliative care into healthcare at all levels (primary, secondary and tertiary) across the continuum of the disease (from the beginning in the suffering to the end). Palliative care is low-cost. There is absolutely no reason for us not to abide by the resolution. By doing so, we would be removing a huge chunk of suffering from our country.

The decision by WHA at this time has tremendous significance, particularly considering that India’s Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has just taken over as chairman of the executive board of WHA.

Pallium India, a national organization aimed at integration of pain relief and palliative care in health care in the country has been asking for inclusion of palliative care in the COVID-19 strategy of Government of India and state governments. Working with PallicovidKerala, it has developed guidelines for palliative care in COVID-19 and has developed online courses for health care providers on the subject.

(For information on online courses for palliative care on COVID-19, write to tipsecho@palliumindia.org.)

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