How Universal Is Palliative Care in Colombia? A Health Policy and Systems Analysis

Tania Pastrana, Liliana De Lima, Felicia Knaul, Hector Arreola-Ornelas, Natalia M. Rodriguez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colombia's health sector reform has been recognized for its universal health (UHC) coverage scheme. However, this reform evolved without palliative care (PC), thereby omitting a core element of UHC. In this paper, we analyze the Colombian health system reform and health policies in relation to PC. We present the history, innovations, successes, and shortcomings of the reform and summarize the lessons learned to strengthen efforts leading to PC integration. Our analysis is based on the WHO public health framework for PC (policy, access to medicines, education, service provision). For several years and especially during the last decade, the government enacted laws and regulations to improve access to essential medicines and to integrate PC. Relative to other countries in Latin America, Colombia was the first to launch a PC service and to accredit palliative medicine as a specialty, the second to establish a national PC association and one of the few countries with a specific PC law. However, data shows that there are still too few services to meet the PC needs of approximately 250,000 adult patients annually. Our analysis shows that the country's failure to integrate PC most likely is a result of limited health worker education. Advocacy efforts should include deans of schools and provosts, in addition to policy makers and regulators. Other possible factors affecting uptake and implementation of existing national policies are civil unrest and limited collaboration between government offices. Additional research is needed to evaluate the impact of these and other related factors on PC integration in Colombia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e124-e133
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Colombia
  • education
  • essential medicines
  • policy analysis
  • service provision
  • universal health care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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