Planning guide for palliative care for cancer patients released by UN agency

5 October 2007 – The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today unveiled its first guide explaining the range of palliative care services available for the millions of people across the world living with advanced stages of cancer.

Aimed at public health planners, particularly in developing countries, the guide provides information on how to devise the most effective methods of providing palliative care, including details of low-cost public health models.

WHO’s Director for Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion, Benedetto Saraceno, said simple and low-cost models can be adopted in ways that reach the majority of the population, even in poor countries where most cases are not diagnosed until the late stages of cancer.

“These models consider the integration of palliative care services in the existing health system, with a special emphasis on community- and home-based care,” he said.

Palliative care focuses on providing pain relief and management of often distressing or debilitating symptoms to patients facing life-threatening illnesses, improving their quality of life.

WHO reports that preliminary estimates indicate that every year as many 4.8 million people who suffer moderate to severe pain as a result of cancer do not receive any treatment.

“Everyone has a right to be treated, and die, with dignity,” said Catherine Le Galès-Camus, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. “The relief of pain – physical, emotional, spiritual and social – is a human right.”

Dr. Le Galès-Camus said this was particularly important in poor countries, where diagnoses are often made so late that treatment is no longer effective and palliative care is the only option.

More than 70 per cent of all deaths from cancer occur in developing countries, which have limited resources for prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Worldwide, some 7.6 million people died from cancer in 2005.

WHO projects that the number of deaths from cancer will keep rising, up to an estimated 9 million in 2015 and 11.4 million by 2030.

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