LIFE Before Death #17: Pain in China

2011 September 9
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Short Film 17 of 50 in the LIFE Before Death documentary series about the global crisis in untreated pain and the dramatic life changing affect palliative care services can deliver to patients and their families around the world.

In “Pain in China” we discover that there is a widespread cultural fear of the use of opioids in China and other parts of Asia where pain is often treated with a variety of traditional Chinese medicine techniques rather than with essential medicines.

“There’s a cultural fear with the use of opioids, not just among the health care providers but also among the public,” reflects Dr Mary Cardosa (Malaysia). “Patients have the perception that; ‘if I use morphine that means I’m going to die’. Those are all factors that will reduce the use of these drugs and the treatment of pain.”

“Many of the patients in China, especially the terminal cancer patients, they do suffer severe pain in the course of dying” reports Dr Andrew Young (China).

“As Chinese we are very concerned about opium,” states Dr Anne Lee (Hong Kong).

“Some people say that it could be rooted back to our Chinese history with the Opium Wars,” considers Faye Chan (Hong Kong). “People are very reluctant. They are scared of dependence issues as well. Not just the public, sometimes the health care professionals.”

“Around 60 to 80 per cent of the doctors have opiophobia — they fear to use opiate drugs, or morphine,” reveals Dr Young.

“We try to see how Chinese medicine can help in pain control as well,” explains Dr Lee.

“Some forms of Chinese medicine also work,” continues Dr Xishan Hao (China). “They do not work as well as opioids. For severe pain they don’t work at all. But for the light pain at the beginning, Chinese medicine, and especially acupuncture, can play a role in cancer pain control.”

“When patients come to my hospice ward, I tell them; ‘I can guarantee you two things’,” explains Dr Young. “One is that the patient must die, and will die very soon. But the second promise is, ‘I promise and guarantee a peaceful dying for the patient.”

Featuring Dr Mary Cardosa (Malaysia), Dr Andrew Young (China), Dr Anne Lee (Hong Kong), Faye Chan (Hong Kong), Dr Xishan Hao (China).

If you’ve missed previous episodes, catch up on the LIFE Before Death website…

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