Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.
- provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms;
- affirms life and regards dying as a normal process;
- intends neither to hasten or postpone death;
- integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care;
- offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death;
- offers a support system to help the family cope during the patients illness and in their own bereavement;
- uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counselling, if indicated;
- will enhance quality of life, and may also positively influence the course of illness;
- is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and includes those investigations needed to better understand and manage distressing clinical complications.
Palliative care for children
Palliative care for children represents a special, albeit closely related field to adult palliative care:
- Palliative care for children is the active total care of the child's body, mind and spirit, and also involves giving support to the family.
- It begins when illness is diagnosed, and continues regardless of whether or not a child receives treatment directed at the disease.
- Health providers must evaluate and alleviate a child's physical, psychological, and social distress.
Effective palliative care requires a broad multidisciplinary approach that includes the family and makes use of available community resources; it can be successfully implemented even if resources are limited. It can be provided in tertiary care facilities, in community health centres and in patient’s homes. Core components to strengthen palliative care include:
- National policy (including integrating palliative care into NCD, cancer and HIV/AIDS strategies)
- Training for health professionals
- Improving access to opioid pain relief (including revising national legislation and prescribing rules)
In 2014, the first ever global resolution on palliative care, WHA 67.19, called upon WHO and Member States to improve access to palliative care as a core component of health systems, with an emphasis on primary health care and community/home-based care.
In the WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) 2013-2020, palliative care is explicitly recognised as part of the comprehensive services required for the management of noncommunicable diseases.
Governments acknowledged the need to improve access to palliative care in the Political Declaration of the High-Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases in 2011, and access to opiate pain relief is one of the 25 indicators in the global monitoring framework for NCDs.