The politics (and economics) of pain relief in the West and Third World

Feature: Pain control : The politics of pain
• Tatum Anderson
BMJ 341:doi:10.1136/bmj.c3800 (Published 11 August 2010) – www.bmj.com

The politics (and economics) of pain relief in the West and Third World
o Felix ID Konotey-Ahulu, Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics University of Cape Coast Ghana
Consultant Physician Genetic Counsellor in Sickle/Other Haemoglobinopathies 10 Harley St London W1G
The politics (and economics) of pain relief in the West and Third World
Tatum Anderson (14 Aug, p 328) wished pain relievers elsewhere could imitate the “Western world” [1]. His concern needs to be put into perspective. Referring to Armenia he quotes Dr Karfeptyan as saying “Finances remain a problem” [1]. Yes, Health Ministers decide which imported drugs have priority over others.

WHO RECOMMENDATIONS
Tatum Anderson mentions WHO recommendations on pain relief, but WHO
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The politics (and economics) of pain relief in the West and Third World
Tatum Anderson (14 Aug, p 328) wished pain relievers elsewhere could imitate the “Western world” [1]. His concern needs to be put into perspective. Referring to Armenia he quotes Dr Karfeptyan as saying “Finances remain a problem” [1]. Yes, Health Ministers decide which imported drugs have priority over others.

WHO RECOMMENDATIONS
Tatum Anderson mentions WHO recommendations on pain relief, but WHO guidelines are not accompanied by money. Useful on paper, they can nevertheless be ignored. Exactly 38 years ago WHO convened some of us to produce an 83-page Technical Report on how to tackle the problem of Sickle Cell Disease. [2]. It was ignored. .
But WHO makes other recommendations which do not rely on foreign aid. WHO knows Traditional Medicine which costs a fraction of what imported drugs cost is widely used [3 4], and aims to “support and integrate traditional medicine into national health systems” [4]. True, some Africans cannot afford imported opiates but “85% of Nigerians use and consult traditional medicine for health care” [5]. Indeed, the pain of my own circumcision when a little boy was managed by a Krobo traditional healer who also “knew about haemostasis” [6]. Neither the ground haemostatic herbs nor the pain killing tincture came from abroad. Did the oral morphine that the Ugandans in Tatum Anderson’s article were using come from abroad, or did they get it from their traditional healers as WHO would have approved of?

WESTERN NATIONAL INTERESTS FIRST BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE
Tatum Anderson writes as if “The Western world” speaks with one voice. Take his comment: “Also, many patients with conditions, such as sickle cell anaemia, …require relief but do not get it” [1] The UK uses Diamorphine for sickle cell crisis patients [7 8], while “heroin has no accepted use in the United States” [9, page 168]. Do these two countries not belong to “The West” and yet do they not differ in their use of this particular opiate? That national interests have more to do with choice of drugs in their Pharmacopoeia is shown by UK’s reaction to Professor Elisabeth Goodman’s finding in the USA [10] that the use in painful crises of Ketorolac was as efficient as morphine but without the latter’s respiratory depression: “Ketorolac has no product licence in the UK for this indication” [11]. Professor Graham Serjeant has stated: “In Jamaican experience morphia or its derivatives are rarely used or necessary” [12, page 204]. I agree [3].

GHANAIAN SICKLE CELL DISEASE ACHIEVERS
On 19 July 2010 The Third International Conference On The Achievements of Sickle Cell Disease Patients [14] was held in Accra, followed on 20-23 July by The First Global Congress On Sickle Cell Disease to mark the 100th anniversary of the first clinical description of Sickle Cell Disease. The Conference had sickle cell anaemia adults in their 7th decade tell us how they managed to achieve great things [14 15]. One known “SS” man with a PhD, who had never in his 63 years been transfused though Hb level was never above 8.8 g/dL and who had never been prescribed Hydroxyurea, astonished delegates when he announced “I do not know when I last took a pain killer for my sickle cell anaemia. Drink plenty of water, avoid malaria, and have a positive attitude to life” [14, page 15].

NATIONAL ENQUIRY INTO PATIENTS OUTCOME AND DEATH (NCEPOD)
The NCEPOD report [7 8] concludes that during 2 years “Nine out of the 19 patients with sickle cell disease who had pain on admission and who then died had been given excessive doses of opiods” [8], and this continues to happen [16 17] in spite of UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) [18 19]. Is post narcotic administration death (pnad) the kind of relief that Tatum Anderson’s “West” is seeking for our patients, many of whom have become bread winners when their hereditary condition is managed properly? [20 21]

WHAT THE THIRD WORLD CAN AND MUST LEARN FROM THE WEST
There is plenty though The Third World can learn from the West, not least of which is ‘Discipline’ in personal and national affairs. We must learn that every privilege demands some responsibility. Why should it be implied [1] that Bill and Melinda Gates could supply us with free morphine? Why should we Africans expect help to come from outside when we refused to learn lessons like Singapore had done?
Next, we Africans need discipline against corruption. I described how a Lebanese, an Italian, plus a Ghanaian conspired and supplied the Ministry of Health in Accra with Ampicillin capsules stuffed with chalk and cassava powder as “500 mg Ampicillin” [22]. The then Commissioner of Health to whom I reported this, and who began to probe the racket was promptly removed from his post [22]. True, the Italian crook came from the “West” but, generally speaking, “The West” is ready to show us the proper means and ways to deal with situations like that [22]. Our envy of “The West” knows no bounds when we read of their ability to prosecute a French President, discipline a German Chancellor, investigate an Israeli Prime Minister, dismiss a Japanese Minister, and remove a sitting American President for “simply lying”. Twice in less than 3 years the BMJ has published articles on pain relief for Africans [1 23]. Can we also have articles showing how “The West” could help us prevent a Minister of Health from being removed for probing crooks in the pharmaceutical industry, and how we should not expect Bill and Melinda Gates to give us free antimalarial drugs when we have not covered open drains in our cities like Singapore and Trinidad have done? [24].
Felix I D Konotey-Ahulu MD(Lond) FRCP DTMH Dr Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics University of Cape Coast, Ghana and Consultant Physician Genetic Counsellor in Sickle and Other Haemoglobinopathies, 10 Harley Street, London W1G 9PF felix@konotey-ahulu.com

1 Anderson Tatum. The politics of pain. Brit Med J 2010; 341: c3800 http:// www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/341/aug11_2/c3800
2 Boyo AE, Cabannes R, Conley CL, Lehmann H, Luzzatto L, Milner PF, Ringelhann B, Weatherall DJ, Barrai I, Konotey-Ahulu FID, Motulsky AG. Scientific Group on Treatment of Haemoglobinopathies and Allied Disorders. (Technical Report) 1972; 509 – 83 pages.
3 WHO. Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005. Geneva: WHO 2002
4 WHO. Traditional Medicine. Fact Sheet No; 134. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs134;en
5 Adelaja Abiose. Nigeria boosts research into traditional medicine. Sci Dev Net Dec 6 2006 http://www.scidev.net/en/news/nigeria- boosts-research-into-traditional-medicine.html
6 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Male circumcision and alleged protection against AIDS. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/335/7631/1206# BMJ 11 Dec 2007 Rapid Response
7 NCEPOD (National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death). Sickle: A Sickle Crisis? (2008) [Sebastian Lucas (Clinical Co- ordinator), David Mason (Clinical Co-ordinator), M Mason (Chief Executive), D Weyman (Research), Tom Treasurer (Chairman) info@ncepod.org
8 Mayor Susan. Enquiry shows poor care for patients with sickle cell disease. BMJ 2008; 336: 1152.
9 Ballas S K. Sickle Cell Pain. IASP Press. Seattle, USA.
10 Goodman Elisabeth. Use of ketorolac in sickle cell disease and vaso-occlusive crisis. Lancet 1991; 338: 641-42.
11 Liesner RJ, Vandenberghe EA, Davies SC. Analgesics in sickle cell disease. Lancet 1993; 341: 188.
12 Serjeant GR. Sickle Cell Disease. Oxford. Oxford University Press, 1985, page 204.
13 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Morphine for painful crises in sickle cell disease. BMJ 1991; 302: 1604.
14 Amanor-Boadu Dorothy, Bruce-Tagoe Alexander, Konotey-Ahulu Felix. The Third International Conference On The Achievements Of Sickle Cell Disease (ACHEACHE) Patients. Accra – 19th July 2010. Adeko Ltd, Accra, Ghana. ISBN: 978-9988-1-3927-8.
15 The Second International Conference On The Achievements Of Sickle Cell Disease Patients, Accra 19th July 1995.
16 Dyer Clare. Inquest begins into deaths after concerns about diamorphine levels. BMJ 2009; 338: b903 [7 March]
17 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Inquest into diamorphine deaths; Does NCEPOD sickle cell patients report warrant a similar inquest? BMJ Rapid response 7 March 2010. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/338/mar03_3/b903#210208
18 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Poor care for sickle cell disease patients: This wake up call is overdue. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/elettres/336/7654/1152-a#196224 BMJ Rapid response 29 May 2008.
19 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Current “hit and miss” care provision for sickle cell disease patients in the UK. BMJ Rapid Response 22 July 2008 http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/337/jul11_2/a771#199135
20 Serjeant GR. The case for dedicated sickle cell centres. BMJ 2007; 334: 477 (3 March)
21 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Dedicated sickle cell centres. BMJ Rapid response March 20 http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/334/7591/477#162678
22 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Who should best pharmacovigilate in developing countries? 14 September 2007 BMJ Rapid Response to Editorial http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/335/7618/462#167455
23 Logie Dorothy, Leng Mhoira. Africans die in pain because of fears of opiate addiction. BMJ 2007; 335: 685 http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/335/7622/685 October 6 2007.
24 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Fighting Malaria: Isn’t the best approach through Environmental Hygiene and Public Health? BMJ Rapid Response April 26 2009 http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/338/apr20_2/b1627#212782
Competing interests: None declared

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