Uncovering the Painful Truth


The UBC Graduate School of Journalism has launched an ambitious multimedia site, The Pain Project (www.internationalreporting.org/pain), which documents one of the greatest challenges to treating chronic illnesses: severely constrained access to morphine. The site results from a year-long investigation by UBC’s International Reporting Program (IRP). Teams travelled to India, Ukraine and Uganda to determine how these countries manage the pain of patients suffering from cancer and other terminal diseases.

Unlike many global health problems, pain treatment is not about money or a lack of drugs, since morphine – the gold standard for treating pain – costs pennies per dose and is easy to make. The IRP found that bureaucratic hurdles, and the chilling effect of the global war on drugs, are the main impediments to access to morphine.

The website features a color-coded map showing the scope of the problem, which extends beyond the developing world. Videos from each of the three countries showcase the stories of patients struggling with pain and the caregivers who have gone up against intractable systems in order to help them. They include a former KGB agent in Ukraine who is dying of prostate cancer and sleeps with a gun under his pillow, in case the pain becomes unbearable; a Ukrainian man who risks jail time by trafficking narcotics to get patients access to morphine; an Indian doctor, frustrated with drug laws, who combines readily available analgesics to ease the pain of local cancer patients; and a doctor who led a successful movement to reform Uganda’s rules around morphine distribution and palliative care.

This website is part of an ongoing project about global access to morphine and includes a documentary for Al Jazeera, Freedom from Pain, which aired on July 20, 2011.


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