The relief of bodily anguish is a human right

Chronic pain – defined as pain that lasts over three or four months – is likely to afflict 50 percent of people, who may have difficulty finding out where and how to obtain relief. But the first Global Day Against Pain, which took place on Monday, October 11, was instituted precisely with this aim: to inform people on how to treat chronic pain and to make it clear that «pain is a disease in its own right» and that «the relief of pain is a human right,» as Manolis Anastassiou, president of the Hellenic Pain Society and director of the anesthesiological unit at the Thriasio hospital, put it. One in five people suffers from moderate to serious pain at some point in their life, according to a recent European survey, and one in three people is less able, or unable, to lead an independent life as a result of pain. Generally, 50 to 75 percent of patients in pain «don’t have quality of life. What’s a priority is to deal with the consequences of pain to a patient,» an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the University of Athens, Athina Vadalouka, told Kathimerini. She works at the pain management center at the Aretaieion hospital. The second most prominent symptom (after fever) shown by AIDS patients is pain. Fifty percent suffer from pain due to damage to the central or peripheral nervous systems. Another huge cause for concern is that by 2015, according to the World Health Organization, 15 million people around the world will have cancer, 90 percent of whom will be suffering from the pain caused by the disease in its last stages. Over 35 pain treatment clinics, centers or units, belonging to the National Health System (ESY), are operative at this juncture around the country, chiefly in Athens but also in the regions. Anastassiou feels that «each hospital in the country should have a pain management center.» The Thriasio hospital’s pain clinic has 50 patients a month, of whom half are cancer sufferers. Twenty-five percent of these have spinal problems while the rest suffer from chronic pain from another cause. Founded in 1994 by 30 doctors, the Hellenic Pain Society now numbers 550 members. While drawn from all specializations, the majority of its members (75 percent) are anesthesiologists. The society’s aim is to provide information on how to deal with pain, a complex process that may involve other specialists, such as psychiatrists, pathologists and others. To mark the Global Day Against Pain, a conference was held on Monday in Geneva, organized by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) and its European arm (EFIC) and co-sponsored by WHO. «It’s a hugely important event,» said Vassiliki Heimonitsi, head of the Hygeia hospital’s pain center. «For the first time, WHO is treating pain as a disease and is responding positively to the adoption of the human right to relief from pain.» This was one of the fundamental aims of the Geneva conference, she explained, adding, «The problem of pain is particularly acute in countries of the Third World, where cancer and AIDS are on the rise.» «If pain,» concludes Vadalouka, «is a passion of soul, as Aristotle said it is, then this should make us treat pain with particular sensitivity.»