The final two days of the Asia Pacific Hospice Conference continued with thought-provoking plenary sessions and vibrant and instructive presentations and workshops, as well as a report from the Asia Pacific Region on countries’ progress towards achieving the World Health Assembly Resolution on Palliative Care (WHA 67.19).

The second day opened with the progress reporting session led by Dr Stephen Connor, Executive Director of the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA), and Dr Eric Krakauer, World Health Organization.

Dr Connor and Dr Krakauer introduced the Resolution and the role of WHO and member states; calling it “a lever to spur the development of palliative care,” before inviting representatives from India, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan to report back on progress towards the Resolution in their countries.

Following the country reports, Dr Connor and Dr Cynthia Goh, Chair of the Asia Pacific Hospice Palliative Care Network (APHN) Council, presented the Singapore Declaration, requesting that all governments in the Asia Pacific region take concrete steps to implement the WHA palliative care resolution.

Excellent plenaries and breakout sessions

Excellent plenaries over the two days challenged, informed and inspired delegates to reflect on and improve their own work.

Dr Ladislav Volicer, Professor at the School of Aging Studies, University of South Florida, Tampa, USA, and Visiting Professor at the Third Medical Faculty, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic, opened the Day Two plenary sessions, speaking about integrating the needs of older people at the end of life and asking: ‘Whose responsibility is it?’

He began by addressing the issue of dementia, calling it “the most feared illness” and used Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs as framework for his talk.

Professor Phyllis Butow, Professor and NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow in the School of Psychology, University of Sydney, presented on: ‘Communicating around End of Life Issues’, listing a number of challenges faced for communication. However, she noted that discussing fears and concerns can be empowering for people at this time.

The final day of the conference began with a moving tribute by Professor Tetsuo Kashiwagi, Founding Chairman of the APHN Council, to Dr Shigeaki Hinohara, Founder and Patron of the organisation, who died peacefully at his home at the age of 105. Prof Kashiwagi asked delegates to stand to reflect on Dr Hinohara’s life and achievements, saying: “We have indeed lost our father and our inspiration.”

Dr Cynthia Goh introduced Professor Irene Higginson, Head of Department and Director of Cicely Saunders Institute for Palliative Care at Kings College London, who gave the Hinohara lecture exploring the Conference theme: Greater than the sum of its parts. 

Prof Higginson argued for the integration of palliative care into the entire care journey, as well as the importance of the integration of research and practice.

She explained the inception and building of the Cicely Saunders Institute and introduced key tools for measuring outcomes and quality of care developed at the Institute that are used worldwide. 

Prof Pang Weng Sun, Chairman of the Medical Board of Yishun Community Hospital and Vice Dean, Clinical Affairs, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Singapore, spoke on the topic: ‘All aboard – engaging bystanders to broaden the network of care’. He noted the importance of expanding beyond the palliative care team, or even teams of health care providers, patients and families to people who were not involved in palliative care at all.

He shared successful public awareness campaigns, such as ‘Die Die, Must Say!’ using existing community practices, such as the attendance of ‘Getai’ shows by older people, to encourage the community to talk about death and end of life issues.

Excellent breakaway sessions over the two days covered issues such as: caring for informal caregivers, ethical dilemmas at the end of life, developing and sustaining a new service, and research to drive change and service improvement.

Workshops were well attended and diverse groups of participants had the opportunity for vibrant discussions on subjects relevant to research and clinical practice. Topics included: conceiving research in paediatric palliative care, and outcome measurement in palliative care.

Closing plenary session

Professor Jim Cleary, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Pain and Policy Studies Group, University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, USA, opened the afternoon plenary session, sharing heartbreaking patient stories illustrating the desperate need for opioid medications for the relief of pain in the Asia Pacific region, while paining a grim picture regarding their availability.

In the final plenary, Professor David Currow, Professor of Palliative and Supportive Services at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, asked challenging questions and reminded those listening not to fall into the trap of focusing on what we do well, but rather on how we can improve on our weaknesses. He asked: “How do we measure what really counts to palliative care patients in order to improve our services?”

Prof Goh presented a statement from the APHN on the issue of euthanasia and assisted dying, noting that the Network promotes access to good quality hospice and palliative care for all. The statement begins: “We value every moment of life and do not support any action that has the intention of shortening a person’s life. Restoring dignity and enhancing quality of life is the basis of palliative care.”

Just before the close of the conference, the President of the Indonesian Palliative Care Association addressed the plenary hall, inviting delegates to the 13th APHC in Indonesia.

The conference was meticulously organised and very well attended, with multidisciplinary representation from around the region and the world.

You can find out more about the conference on the event website.