INCB President joins call to extend palliative care during and after COVID-19 pandemic

Vienna, 27 April 2020 - The President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Cornelis de Joncheere, has joined palliative care specialists in recognizing the key role of palliative care in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a comment published in The Lancet on 22 April 2020, the President of INCB, together with a number of experts, stated that in this most challenging time, health responders can apply the principles of palliative care to focus on compassionate care and dignity, provide rational access to essential opioid medicines and mitigate social isolation at the end of life and caregiver distress.

The comment emphasizes that relief of the huge burden of COVID-19-related suffering will require opioids, especially inexpensive, off-patent injectable and immediate release oral morphine. Yet 50 per cent of people - the world's poorest - have access to only 1 per cent of the globally distributed opioids in morphine-equivalent. As a result, access to opioid medications in many countries, even for palliative care, is inadequate.

As noted in the joint comment, as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, low and middle-income countries need to increase national opioid medication reserves. INCB has called on governments to ensure continued access to controlled medicines, including opioids, during this pandemic, recalling that in acute emergencies it is possible to use simplified procedures for the export, transportation, and provision of opioid medications to affected areas when necessary. The Model Guidelines for the International Provision of Controlled Medicines for Emergency Medical Care, developed by WHO in cooperation with INCB are available on the INCB website. Under such circumstances, competent authorities may, therefore, allow the export of medicines containing controlled narcotic drugs and/or psychotropic substances to affected countries, even in the absence of the corresponding import authorizations and/or estimates.

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