Palliative care, a necessity in Universal Health Coverage

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Anita-Varvara Juchiac, a 6th year medical student in Timisoara, Romania. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Currently, the world is talking about access to healthcare, equality of chances in receiving the medication without burdening the population with the total financial cost. We are advancing in the process of actually getting to the point when we can say that we have achieved universal health coverage as more countries are getting conscious of the need for it and the younger population has become a voice of advocacy with a thrive for change. But what about palliative care?

A lot of our focus points are based on prevention, as we are all taught in medical school that preventing is easier than treating, or on the treatment of certain diseases or rehabilitation for getting back into the society and workforce, therefore in the so-called normal life. But a lot of us are failing to give more importance to palliative care. When I was a fifth year, a professor of mine from oncology, while teaching about end-of-life care, has told us that it’s their decency we give to the patient in need of palliative care. And that stayed with me as I started researching more on the subject and I realized that not only cancer patients are in need of it but a whole lot of pathologies, from major organ failure to Alzheimer’s or ALS and even extreme birth prematurity. And another thing which I realized, palliative care didn’t mean end-of-life care as in you have no future, it was different from hospice care. It meant that the patients were allowed to keep their faith in the case of newly diagnosed, fighting for a chance without having to go through daily excruciating pain while also dealing with depression and the whole understanding of their disease. Palliative care was treating the patient as a whole, not as an illness. And it was treating their families as well. People might go, but there was always someone who was left behind, dealing with the pain from the loss, questioning themselves. Did they do the right thing?

But why do we advocate for the inclusion of palliative care in universal health coverage? First of all, think of the people. Annually, 40 million people are in need of palliative care but 78% of them are living in low and middle-income countries. Are you really able to tell me that they are able to access palliative care? What about the children? 98% of those needing palliative care live in low and middle-income countries, with almost half of them living in Africa. The little bundle of light of their parents, in need of palliative care, in pain or general suffering. With no access to relief. Then secondly, think about what it would mean for the people to have access. Being right under the human right to health, it focuses on the patient and their needs and their family needs to get through this stage. Improving the quality of life and giving dignity in death. And if you think of administrative aspects, ensuring proper palliative care will make ease on the health system by reducing the unnecessary hospital admissions and overall costs. We need more people to advocate for palliative care, to eliminate the misconceptions behind it, and more training on it within medical curricula.  I’m leaving you with this in mind, with some aspects to think of when considering what it means to achieve universal health coverage.

About the author

Anita-Varvara Juchiac is a 6th year medical student in Timisoara, Romania. Emergency medicine volunteer and IFMSA IT member, her biggest dream in life, career wise at least, is to be able to provide medical assistance to those in need the most. She wishes as a resident to be able to advocate for UHC, facilitate building primary healthcare centers in underdeveloped countries and apply all that she learned from her volunteering experience in the working environment.

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