Barriers to, and opportunities for, palliative care development in the Eastern Mediterranean Region
The 22 countries of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Region are experiencing an increase in the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer. Of the six WHO regions, the Eastern Mediterranean Region is projected to have the greatest increase in cancer incidence in the next 15 years. Furthermore, most cancers are diagnosed at a late stage, resulting in a lower cancer survival rate than in the European Region and the Region of the Americas. With increasing numbers of deaths from cancer, palliative care should be available to relieve suffering in patients with advanced disease and at the end of life. However, in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, the palliative care available is variable and inconsistent. Several barriers exist to the development and expansion of palliative care delivery in this region, including the absence of palliative care in national policies, little partnership working, insufficient palliative care education for health-care professionals and volunteers, poor public awareness, and gaps in access to essential pain-relief medicines. In this Review, we explore data and evidence from published literature, WHO meeting reports, cancer control mission reports, and the WHO global NCD country capacity survey to identify the status of palliative care in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, including the challenges and opportunities for development.