Physicians who care for the dying agree that the relief of suffering is a central issue. Too much pain is inadequately treated, and too much suffering is undiagnosed and unrelieved.

-Eric J. Cassell, MD

Identifying the Need:

Global cancer rates are increasing at a rapid pace:

  • Predicted 20 million new cancer cases annually
  • 13 million cancer-related deaths by 2030.
  • By 2030, 70% of new cancer cases annually will be in resource limited settings.
  • Cancer death rates are much higher in resource limited settings.
  • Roughly 80% of cancer patients first present with advanced disease, when the disease may not be curable
  • In these settings, while improving access to high quality cancer screening and care is a must, addressing patients’ symptoms of pain and discomfort as well as psychological distress is critical

Palliative Care: A Holistic Approach:

Palliative care is a medical specialty that addresses the physical, emotional, psychosocial and spiritual needs of cancer patients during the course of their illness.  Access to adequate pain and symptom control is a human right, not a luxury.

Based on data published by the World Health Organization, only 1 in 10 people who need palliative care currently receive it.  Only 20 countries worldwide have palliative care integrated into the healthcare systems, and most palliative care is provided in high-income countries.

There is a huge unmet need for palliative care in patients with advanced cancer and other life-limiting illness in low and middle-income countries. One of Global Oncology’s core objectives is to ensure that palliative care is integrated into comprehensive cancer care in resource-limited settings.

The Challenges of Providing Palliative Care in Resource-limited Settings:

Lack of funding, policies, education and access to appropriate medications make it difficult to integrate palliative care into already struggling healthcare systems.  Global Oncology is committed to collaborating with countries seeking education in the principles of palliative care.  The goal is to go beyond emergency intervention and build long term capacity through ongoing mentorship.

Building Global Partnerships:

In May 2014, GO launched its first educational collaboration with Belarus.  A team of GO affiliated clinicians – including physicians, a nurse practitioner and medical student – traveled to Belarus to conduct a one-week palliative care seminar. This course was the culmination of a year-long dialogue and needs assessment between the GO team and educational leaders in Belarus. The GO Palliative Care team continues their collaboration with clinicians in Belarus as they set up a National Center for Palliative Care.

The Road Ahead:

Global Oncology plans to continue its educational mission so that information can be disseminated more broadly in areas where the need is most critical. Our goals include:

  • Working with countries who have identified a need for enhanced palliative care education and access
  • Helping to develop ongoing training for clinicians and fostering longitudinal mentoring relationships
  • Helping countries develop sustainable training programs in palliative care throughout all levels of medical training

- Sarah Slater, MD, Kathleen Doyle, MD, Debra Skoniecki, NP