WMA Resolution on the Access to Adequate Pain Treatment
Adopted by the 62nd WMA General Assembly, Montevideo, Uruguay, October 2011
And amended by the 71st WMA General Assembly (online), Cordoba, Spain, October 2020
Around the world, tens of millions of people with cancer and other diseases and conditions experience moderate to severe pain without access to adequate treatment. These people face severe suffering, often for months on end, and many eventually die in pain. Those who may not be able to adequately express their pain – such as children, people with intellectual disabilities and those with altered consciousness– and individuals and populations that have historically been undertreated for pain and pain management due to bias, are especially at risk of receiving inadequate pain treatment.
Inadequate pain treatment contributes to individual suffering physically and emotionally, but also causes huge care burdens and negative economic impact on a national level.
However, most of the suffering is unnecessary and is almost always preventable and treatable.
In most cases, pain can be stopped or relieved with inexpensive and relatively simple treatment interventions, which can dramatically improve the quality of life for patients. Sometimes, especially in severe chronic pain, psycho-emotional factors are even more significant than physiologic factors.
Pain treatment in these cases may require a multi-faceted approach to care by multidisciplinary teams.
Over the years, the use of opioids has seen significant growth in some countries. In many other areas around the world, however, access to essential pain treatment remains limited for patients in pain. Even in countries with a high volume of use, it can be difficult for specific populations to receive adequate treatment for their pain. Incomplete pain assessment or improper use of pain medication can bring about adverse drug reactions. All of these are very important and urgent issues need to be addressed.
Governments should adopt effective measures, wherever possible, for adequate pain treatment. For this goal, governments shall ensure that healthcare professionals across fields are entitled to educational training on pain evaluation and management; that the right of all patients in pain to pain treatment is not compromised due to unnecessary regulations; and that policies on the management of controlled drugs help with effective monitoring of and prevention against risks associated with controlled drugs.
- Access to adequate pain treatment is a human right. Physicians, medical professionals and health care workers must offer pain assessment and pain treatment to patients with pain. Governments must provide sufficient resources and proper pain treatment regulations.
- Pain is a complex perception consisting of physical, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual sufferings. Physicians, medical professionals and health care workers must offer holistic pain assessment and appropriate pain treatment, such as pharmacological and/or non-pharmacological interventions to patients with pain. All healthcare professionals should seek to fulfill the goal of effectively evaluating the pain of all patients, including pain suffered by children, cognitively impaired patients and those unable to properly express themselves. Healthcare professionals should also seek to effectively evaluate and treat pain in patients and populations who have historically been undertreated for pain due to implicit and explicit biases.
- Pain treatment and control education shall be provided to healthcare professionals including physicians, other medical professionals, and other health care workers.
Education should include pain assessment, evidence-based pain control, and the efficacy and risks of painkillers. Education should include pain medicine, including the action of opioids, preventing adverse reactions, and the adjustment and conversion of the dosage of opioids. Patient-centered care should be taught to fulfill the goal of adequately stopping pain and reducing the incidence of adverse reactions. The curriculum shall be highly competence-based in design enhancing the knowledge, the attitude, and the skills of healthcare professionals while treating pain.
Education should support the development of pain and palliative specialists, in order for them to effectively support first-line physicians and other medical professionals.
Pain treatment education for medical professionals shall include the non-medicinal treatment options. Education should equip medical professionals with proper interpersonal communication skills, cultural sensitivity, and the ability to evaluate the overall pain suffered by patients at the physiological, psychological, and spiritual levels and to empower them in inter-professional practice so that professionals can work together to alleviate the pain felt by patients with and without medication.
- Governments, regulators and healthcare administrators must acknowledge the consequences of pain in terms of health, productivity, and economic burden. Governments should provide ample resources and have suitable regulations governing controlled drugs.
For policies on the control of drugs, governments shall periodically review and adequately revise them to ensure the availability and accessibility of controlled drugs such as opioids. In addition, abuse and illicit use must be prevented.
- Patients in pain shall be given access to effective pain medication, including opioids. Depriving them of such right is a violation of their right to health and is medically unethical.
- Governments must ensure that controlled drugs, including opioids, are made available and accessible to help relieve the suffering. Relief of suffering and prevention against abuse shall be balanced in the management of controlled drugs.
Government shall provide abundant resources and create a national pain management research institute to explore issues in pain treatment and to come up with solutions, in particular:
- Explore issues that become barriers to pain treatment, such as financial condition, socioeconomic status, patient race and ethnicity, urban and rural differences, logistics, insufficient training, and culture (the misunderstanding that people have about opioids, for example)
- Promote the use of validated pain assessment tools.
- Conduct studies of emerging therapies or non-medicinal therapies.
- Establish a system and a standard procedure to record and collect pain-related data for correct statistics and monitoring. Pain-related data includes the incidence and prevalence of pain, cause of pain, burden of pain, pain treatment status, reason for pain not properly treated, and number of people with drug abuse, etc.
- Governments shall prepare a national pain treatment plan to be followed in pain prevention, pain treatment, pain education, and policies on the management of controlled drugs.
- The national pain treatment plan shall be evidence-based.
- Governments must take into consideration opinions of policymakers, medical professionals, and the general public in order to prepare a national pain treatment plan that is extensive, practical, and forward-looking, contributing to enhanced nationwide pain treatment efficacy.