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Right to pain relief: 5.5 billion people have no access to treatment, warn UN experts World Hospice and Palliative Care Day - Saturday 10 October 2015

09 October 2015

GENEVA (9 October 2015) – Speaking ahead of the World Hospice and Palliative Care Day*, two United Nations human rights experts urge States and the international community to prioritize universal and non-discriminatory availability and access to palliative care and pain relief treatment to anyone in need.

The UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dainius Pūras, warn that in many countries palliative care is still non-existent or not even recognized as a medical specialty.

“An estimated 5.5 billion people have no or inadequate access to medicines containing narcotic drugs or to treatment for moderate to severe pain, according to the UN International Narcotics Control Board - the body charged with the implementation of the UN drug conventions.

In other words, three quarters of the world’s population, have limited or no access to pain relief treatment. Older persons with a life-threatening or life-limiting illness continue to have limited access to medication, due to restrictive drug regulations and the failure to implement a properly functioning supply and distribution system.

This is often exacerbated by inadequate health-care system capacity and a lack of training programmes that address the specific needs and wishes of older persons. In fact, in many countries, palliative care is still non-existent or not recognized as a medical specialty.

Older persons have the right to live the last years of their lives with dignity and without unnecessary suffering. Obstacles to accessing palliative care must be identified and tackled to provide relief for those in need.

On occasion of the World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, we call on States to comply fully with their obligations and ensure the availability and accessibility of such care for all in need.”

(*) The World Hospice and Palliative Care Day takes place the second Saturday of October every year. The Day is organized by a committee of the Worldwide Palliative Care Alliance, a network of national and regional hospice and palliative care organizations that support the development of hospice and palliative care worldwide. This year’s theme is “Hidden Lives/Hidden Patients”.

Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte (Chile) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons in May 2014. Ms. Kornfeld-Matte served as the National Director of the Chilean National Service of Ageing where she designed and implemented the National Policy of Ageing. She has a long career as an academic and is the founder of the programme for older persons at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Learn more, visit:

Human rights of older persons:

Mr. Dainius Pūras, (Lithuania) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. He is a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health, child health, and public health policies. He is a Professor and the Head of the Centre for Child Psychiatry Social Paediatrics at Vilnius University, and teaches at the Faculty of Medicine, Institute of International Relations and Political science and Faculty of Philosophy of Vilnius University, Lithuania. Learn more, visit:

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For further information and media requests, please contact Mr. Khaled Hassine (+41 22 917 93 67 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])  

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