Providing Pain Relief in Africa

By Jamie Attard, staff editor Africans must often bear the painful consequences of war wounds, injuries, cancer, AIDS, and childbirth without any relief.  In an article titled “A lot of pain,” the Economist reported on September 30, 2010 that Africans today have limited access to morphine and other painkillers.  Kenya, one of the best countries for palliative care in Africa, has only seven hospitals with ready access to morphine, with an annual supply limited to 1,500 patients.

Painkillers are cheap, durable, easily administered, and abundantly supplied, but in Africa they are not well understood or accepted.  Many patients simply do not know that severe pain can be relieved.  This is compounded by a medical culture that denounces potentially addictive substances and a legal framework that places an undue burden on hospitals administering controlled substances.

Africans have the right to live their lives without the specter of constant severe pain.  The African Union (AU) could take the lead by funding education programs to inform local African communities of the avenues available to relieve severe pain.  The AU should also consider defining regional management protocols for the classification of drugs and their application across Africa.

African medical practitioners need to be provided additional training by the Africa Medical Association to enable them to more effectively diagnose severe pain and administer painkillers.  The World Health Organization (WHO) could also step in to provide additional funding for securely storing and administering painkillers. Further, the WHO should assist in establishing a secure logistical transportation framework to ensure all African hospitals have a ready supply of painkillers.

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