Palliative care is a vital part of the COVID-19 response by alleviating suffering for people of all ages, by managing symptoms such as breathlessness, facilitating effective communication, end of life care and bereavement support across all settings including hospitals, communities and homes. Palliative care is an essential part of Universal Health Coverage. Lack of access results in serious health-related suffering. Based on experience from other global viral pandemics, palliative care supports the health system, health workers, and communities to alleviate suffering, including at the end of life.
We call on member states to:
1. Mainstream palliative care to alleviate suffering now; and build health systems back better. We must ensure palliative care access to people of all ages in all settings whether due to COVID-19 or pre-existing palliative care needs (e.g. due to HIV, NCDs or dementia), recognising the higher risks to older people. To build back better, we need increased public financing for palliative care through UHC, including trained health workers and essential palliative medicines for all.
2. Ensure people with palliative care needs are not left behind. They need: information to stay safe; continuity of care in all settings; that their wishes are heard; commitments to no blanket ‘Do not resuscitate’ orders; access to palliative medications; essential needs including housing, food, and financial sufficiency; that they, from children to older people, can be accompanied by loved ones.
3. Support, resource and protect communities to provide compassionate care. As health systems struggle, families, communities and community organisations continue to provide the bedrock of care, including those facing the end of life in homes. Women and girls, particularly, are crucial in community care responses and need to be supported. Working as equal partners with health systems, communities must be resourced, supported and protected to provide care in homes and communities.