WHO wants more palliative care for Europeans

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 29 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:248
  1. Fiona Fleck
  1. Geneva

    Many Europeans who are terminally ill die in unnecessary pain and discomfort because their health systems lack skilled staff and do not widely offer palliative care services, according to two studies published by the World Health Organization this month.

    In the two reports WHO found that although Europe's population is ageing and more people are dying of chronic diseases, the range and quality of palliative care services remain severely limited and inadequate.

    WHO called on health policy makers to urgently address the needs of ageing populations and to make palliative care a core part of their healthcare services.

    Early identification of pain and other health problems can make a “dramatic difference,” WHO said.

    “Palliative care is by and large a neglected topic in most countries. What is required is both a social and a political impetus,” said Dr Agis Tsouros, head of the Centre for Urban Health at WHO's European regional office.

    WHO said that many patients who are dying need support from their relatives and health workers to help them cope with disability, pain, anxiety, and depression, while relatives of the patients also need help to cope with their own anxiety and depression.

    Embedded Image

    An auxiliary nurse helps a terminally ill patient


    It said that although 75% of people in Europe and the United States say they would prefer to die at home, only 18% to 32% actually have that option. (See story below.)

    Some groups, including some members of ethnic minorities, children, and elderly people, are excluded from the best palliative care, it said.

    According to WHO the number of people in the world aged over 60 is expected to double by 2050; 10% to 20% will be from rich countries and 18% to 35% from poor countries.

    By 2020 the chief causes of death among people in this age group are expected to be chronic illnesses. WHO said the top five causes of death were likely to be heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, lower respiratory infections, and lung cancer.


    • Better Palliative Care for Older People and Palliative Care: The Solid Facts are accessible at

    View Abstract

    Sign in

    Log in through your institution