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World Cancer Day, inequities in global access to palliative care – and a film that will matter to us all, sooner or later

On the eve of World Cancer Day, Claire Maskell of Palliative Care Australia describes global variations in access to palliative care, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

***

LIFE before death: the film

Claire Maskell writes:

Palliative and end of life care doesn’t get much attention in the public health world. Prevention and health promotion might not seem to immediately fit with death that cannot be averted.

But there is a lot we can do to ensure that the end of life and the process of dying are well managed, with quality care, and free from preventable pain.

Unfortunately, we are currently failing to do this for 4 out of 5 people in the world.

Figures released by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) estimate that more than 3.3 million terminal cancer patients die each year without getting adequate pain treatment (http://www.treatthepain.com/).

We mustn’t forget this is just the tip of the iceberg – these are just deaths from cancer, never mind other forms of life threatening disease.

This is a huge public health crisis, yet one that doesn’t get enough media coverage to arouse public concern and drive political and systems change.

It’s not that we don’t have a solution, we do, and it’s called morphine.

Morphine is safe, effective, inexpensive, easy to use and administer. Yet barriers such as ignorance, a lack of public and medical education, myths and laws restricting the use of narcotic drugs, prevent millions of people from getting access, forcing them to live and die with treatable pain.

But this is by no means a burden shared equally across the world – 99.9% of these deaths occur in low to middle income countries and the percentage of the world’s medicinal narcotics they receive is just 6%.

What about us here in Australia? Well, we are fortunate to be part of the 15% of the world that has access to 93% of the world’s medicinal narcotic supply; we help make up the 1 billion people globally that do enjoy access to pain management and a decent system of palliative care.

The same is not true, however, for our closest neighbours. A study by the World Palliative Care Alliance in Octobershowed that the Asia-Pacific region was lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of its palliative care provision (http://www.thewpca.org/resources/).

Half of the countries in the region have no form of palliative care, compared to 42% globally. Further, a Human Rights Watch study in 2010 showed that some countries in the Asia-Pacific region had no access to medicinal narcotics whatsoever. (http://www.hrw.org/reports/2009/03/02/please-do-not-make-us-suffer-any-more-0)

Is this fair? Should we be doing more in Australia to help our Asia-Pacific neighbours?

This Saturday, 4th February, is World Cancer Day. Around the world, individuals and organisations are using the day as an opportunity to highlight the issues surrounding the global cancer burden. For more information about what you can do to take part visit http://www.worldcancerday.org/

Palliative Care Australia is hosting a screening of the award-winning documentary LIFE before Death.

 The film features footage gathered from 11 countries to illustrate the consequences of inadequate pain management and access to palliative care services, and what needs to be done to rectify the situation.

Following the film there will be a discussion of the issues raised and the current Senate Inquiry into Palliative Care (http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/clac_ctte/palliative_care/index.htm).

PCA’s screening is on Wednesday 8th February at Parliament House, Canberra. For more information please contact pcaincATpalliativecare.org.au

***

About LIFE before Death

LIFE Before Death is presented by the Lien Foundation and produced by Moonshine Movies.

You can watch the movie trailers and series of short films about palliative care and pain management at  http://www.youtube.com/user/LifeBeforeDeathMovie 

The movie can be purchased from http://www.lifebeforedeath.com/Movie/

* Claire Maskell is National Communications Officer for PCA

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