UBC journalism project documents global pain crisis

September 19, 2011, University of British Columbia

In advance of a United Nations conference today on the global challenges of treating cancer and other diseases, the UBC Graduate School of Journalism has launched an ambitious multimedia site, The Pain Project, which documents one of the greatest challenges to treating chronic illnesses: severely constrained access to morphine.

The Pain Project, www.internationalreporting.org/pain, results from a year-long investigation by UBC's International Reporting Program (IRP). Teams traveled to , and to determine how these countries manage the pain of patients suffering from cancer and other terminal diseases.

Unlike many problems, pain treatment is not about money or a lack of drugs, since – 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.

"This story of global morphine shortages is one of those issues that both the media and the medical community have overlooked," says Prof. Peter W. Klein, a former 60 Minutes producer who led the project and acting director of UBC's Graduate School of Journalism. "I'm proud we've been able to shed light on this hidden human rights crisis."

In an interview with UBC students for the project, the executive director of the UN Office of Drug Crimes admits that one of the side effects of drug laws that curtail access to legitimate medical opiates is that some patients around the world suffer needlessly.

The high-level UN Conference on Non-Communicable Diseases begins today in New York and continues Tuesday. The website features a color-coded map that shows 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, including:

  • 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 laws, who combines readily available analgesics to ease the pain of local cancer patients
  • A nurse who led a successful movement to reform Uganda's rules around morphine distribution and palliative care
  • Traditional medicine's role as the first line of treatment for most Ugandans
This website is part of an ongoing project about global access to morphine, which includes a documentary for Al Jazeera, "Freedom from Pain," which aired on July 20, 2011.

This is the third project of the International Reporting Program. Its first documentary, "Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground," was produced in partnership with PBS Frontline/WORLD and won the 2010 Emmy Award for Outstanding Magazine Investigative Reporting. Its second project, "Cheap Shrimp: Hidden Costs," was an online multimedia project for the Globe and Mail and has just been nominated for a prestigious Online News Association Award.

More information: For more information, visit www.journalism.ubc.ca, www.internationalreporting.org and www.mindsetfoundation.com.

Previous UBC International Reporting Program projects:

Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground (PBS Frontline): www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/sto … /ghana804/index.html

Cheap Shrimp: Hidden Costs (Globe and Mail): www.internationalreporting.org/shrimp/

Freedom from Pain (Al Jazeera): english.aljazeera.net/programm … 720113555645271.html

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.