Palliative Care and Pain Control

In: Disease Control Priorities: Improving Health and Reducing Poverty. 3rd edition. Washington (DC): The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank; 2017 Nov 27. Chapter 12.


Palliative care has been shown to provide significant and diverse benefits for patients with serious, complex, or life-limiting health problems. Such benefits include the following:

  1. Reduced physical, psychological, and spiritual suffering (Abernethy and others 2003; Gwyther and Krakauer 2011; Higginson and others 2014; Krakauer 2008; Singer and others 2016; Temel and others 2010; WHO 2008; Zimmerman and others 2014)

  2. Improved quality of life (Singer and others 2016; Zimmerman and others 2014)

  3. Prolonged survival in some situations (Connor and others 2007; Temel and others 2010).

Palliative care also can lower costs to health care systems (Chalkidou and others 2014; DesRosiers and others 2014; Gomez-Batiste and others 2012; Jamison and others 2013; Knaul and others 2017; Summers 2016). For these reasons, it is recognized globally as an ethical responsibility of all health care systems and a necessary component of universal health coverage (World Health Assembly 2014). Yet palliative care is rarely accessible in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This chapter describes an essential package (EP) of palliative care services and treatments that could and should be accessible to everyone everywhere, as well as the sites or platforms where those services and treatments could be offered. Thus, it was necessary to make a preliminary estimate of the burden of health-related suffering requiring palliative care.

To roughly estimate the need for palliative care, we identified the serious, complex, or life-limiting conditions listed in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD)-10 that most commonly result in physical, psychological, social, or spiritual suffering (WHO 2015a). We then estimated the types, prevalence, and duration of suffering resulting from each condition. On the basis of this characterization of the burden of suffering, we propose an EP of palliative care and pain control designed to do the following:

  1. Prevent or relieve the most common and severe suffering related to illness or injury.

  2. Be affordable, even in LMICs.

  3. Provide financial risk protection for patients and families by providing a realistic alternative to expensive, low-value treatment.

We costed the EP in one low-income country (Rwanda), one lower-middle-income country (Vietnam), and one upper-middle-income country (Mexico) and projected these costs for LMICs in general (Knaul and others 2017). At the conclusion of this chapter, we provide guidance on how to integrate the EP into health systems as an essential element of universal health coverage (UHC) in LMICs. We also discuss how to augment the EP as soon as is feasible to further prevent and relieve suffering.

This chapter draws directly on the work of the Lancet Commission on Global Access to Palliative Care and Pain Control (the Lancet Commission) (Knaul and others 2017).

Publication types

  • Review