Lack Of Adequate Pain Relief Is 'A Global Health Emergency'

By Victoria Kim 10/17/17

According to a new report, nearly 26 million people die every year from a lack of adequate palliative care.

Adequate Pain Relief Is Lacking Everywhere Else in the World
The majority of painkillers is consumed by a small percentage of the global population.

While the United States and Canada suffer from excessive opioid use, resulting in addiction and deaths, the rest of the world suffers from too little. According to a new report, this is a “massive global health emergency” that deserves attention.

The three-year study, by The Lancet Commission on Global Access to Palliative Care and Pain Relief, found that a severe lack of adequate palliative care in low- and middle-income countries causes nearly 26 million deaths each year—among them, 2.5 million children.

“What we have here is an access abyss of palliative and pain relief for the poor,” says Dr. Paul Farmer, co-chair of The Lancet Commission and a Harvard Medical School professor.

Palliative care is necessary for people with serious illnesses such as cancer, HIV, heart disease and tuberculosis.

A comprehensive solution for pain relief could come from cheap and effective morphine, which should cost “pennies a tablet,” yet the distribution of this drug differs greatly by country.

According to the report, more than 75% of the global population lives where there is a lack of access to morphine for palliative care. “Of the 298.5 metric tons of opioids in morphine distributed worldwide, only 10.8 metric tons (3.4%) is distributed in low- and middle-income countries,” states the report.

Efforts to narrow the gap between rich and poor is “a moral, health, and ethical imperative,” it said. “No health system can expect to meet the needs of its people without providing access to basic pain relief and palliative care,” said Dr. Farmer.

World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim says there’s a deeper issue at play. The reason why we need better palliative care in the first place, he says, is due to the fundamental “failure of health systems in poor countries.”

Among the 10 countries with the largest populations, the United States is the only one that's in the midst of an opioid epidemic.

The report urges health systems around the world to offer an “essential package of palliative care” to citizens.

The commission’s recommendations include better utilization of off-patent, affordable, oral and injectable morphine for pain, while properly tracking the supply of morphine and training health care professionals to avoid an American-style opioid crisis.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr