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Researchers Shocked at 'Pain Gap' Between Rich and Poor

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

A new study on pain management around the world has shocked researchers.

The study found that many people in poor and middle-income countries suffer unimaginable pain without any help. They lack even the cheapest painkillers to manage severe pain.

The results of this study has led to action. Researchers now want to find ways to help the millions of people who suffer needlessly.

Felicia Knaul is one of the researchers involved in the study. She is a professor at the University of Miami’s School of Medicine. She says that around 61 million people worldwide live and some die in great pain because of a lack of pain medicine and proper care.

Knaul says she became interested in global pain management after her own surgery for breast cancer.

'I woke up from a mastectomy and I remember the horror of the pain, of not being able to breathe. And yet, I got access almost immediately to pain relief, which allowed me to push through it much more easily.'

She says that when she realized how inexpensive it could be to help people suffering in pain, she felt the need to act.

'When I thought about other women going through this, when I thought about children, burn victims and having their wounds dressed and cleaned, and the agony of that without pain relief, and then when I found out how inexpensive it is to solve this problem, a real win-win in global health --- that was when we really decided to move forward.'

Knaul led the international study on pain relief published in The Lancet. She explains that the researchers looked at worldwide access to a common pain medication, morphine.

'We looked across the world using, as a tracer, access to morphine. And more than 100 countries could satisfy less than 30 percent of need for pain relief just for palliative care alone. And, in fact, the vast majority have almost nothing.'

In the United States, morphine costs three cents per dose. In low-income countries, it costs five times as much. However, it is usually not available.

If the cost of morphine were the same for all countries, the study found that it would cost $145 million to make pain relief available for all.

Developing countries can work to close -- what researchers are calling -- the “pain gap.” Uganda is one example. Its government makes and distributes morphine for the country's hospitals. Doctors are trained in giving the drug and patients are monitored.

Knaul has asked the World Bank to help end the pain gap. Experts are still developing plans. But the goal is clear: to provide pain relief for the millions of people who truly need it.

And that’s the Health & Lifestyle report. I’m Anna Matteo.

Carol Pearson reported this story for VOA News in Washington. Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson edited the story.

Words in This Story

palliate v. to moderate the intensity of : palliative adj.

mastectomy medical n. : surgical removal of all or part of the breast and sometimes associated lymph nodes and muscles

horror v. the quality of something that causes feelings of fear, dread, and shock : the horrible or shocking quality or character of something

agony v. extreme mental or physical pain

tracer medical n. : a substance that is put in a patient's body so that doctors can watch a biological process (such as digestion) or see how a condition (such as cancer) is progressing

access n. freedom or ability to obtain or make use of something

vast adj. very great in size, amount, degree, intensity, or especially in extent or range

dose n. the amount of a medicine, drug, or vitamin that is taken at one time

distribute v. to give out or deliver especially to members of a group

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