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Caribbean Palliative Care Association Requests Hon. Courtney Rattray, Jamaica Ambassador to the UN, to include Community Based Palliative Care in High Level Meeting Declaration

Author: Dr Dingle Spence, Consultant in Oncology and Palliative Medicine, Hope Institute Hospital, and Dr Natalie Greaves, GP, Cave’s Medical and Rehabilitation Centre
21 June 2017
  • Dr Dingle Spence
  • Dr Natalie Greaves

“Desperate situations demand extreme measures,” said Dr Dingle Spence, palliative care physician and founding member of the recently formed Caribbean Palliative Care Association (CariPalCA).

The desperate situation is that the region has the highest death rates from illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease in the Americas.

CariPalCA proposes that Jamaica and other CARICOM countries confront this situation by integrating palliative care into their national healthcare systems.

Palliative care is holistic clinical, social, spiritual, care that improves quality of life for patients and families facing serious, life limiting illness. 

An estimated 100% of persons dying from cancer and 2/3 of those dying from non-cancer illnesses need palliative care during their last year of life.

“Currently no Caribbean country has fully integrated palliative care into its health system,” says Spence.

CariPalCA claims that palliative care can not only relieve the physical, psychological, and spiritual suffering of patients and families facing life-limiting illness; it can also lift the economic burdens most have to face.

On Saturday 17 June 17, CariPalCA transmitted a proposal to Her Excellency, Ambassador Courtenay Rattray, Permanent Representative of Jamaica at the United Nations, and all the Health Ministers in the CARICOM region, asking them to take note of the importance of palliative care as an essential and needed component of Universal Health Coverage in the Ministerial Declaration of the High Level Political Forum at the United Nations.

Ambassador Rattray is charged, along with her Austrian counterpart, with drafting the Ministerial Declaration.

The High Level Political Forum will take place in July, convening all UN member states to discuss the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The theme will be: ‘Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world’.

The proposal submitted by CariPalCA to Ambassador Rattray stated that when countries integrate palliative care into their health systems as a component of Universal Health Coverage, they can leave the health poverty trap behind.

The health poverty trap is particularly lethal in countries with weak healthcare systems, where patients generally present too late at clinics for effective curative treatment and care.

Patients are hospitalised repeatedly and for long periods, for symptom control that could be provided in the community.

As a result, family caregivers lose jobs and key income sources, falling into debt and deeper poverty. The downward spiral usually results in children dropping out of school for lack of money for fees, and families losing their land and homes.

Health systems and communities that integrate palliative care improve patient and family quality of life, and relieve pain and other types of suffering.

Community based palliative care can support patients to return to basic functioning when possible and allows family caregivers to return to work and school. The service also helps avoid unnecessary and costly, hospitalisations, allowing people with chronic illnesses to stay at home with their loved ones when this is desired.

Dr Spence noted that: “CariPalCA fervently hopes that Ambassador Rattray and the Health Ministers will consider our proposal as the provision of palliative care is essential to receive the best possible level of health care. It is an ethical and moral responsibility of our leaders to actively facilitate the provision of this form of care in the Caribbean region.” 

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