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Investigation of the practices, legislation, supply chain and regulation of opioids for clinical pain management in Southern Africa: A multi-sectoral, cross-national, mixed methods study

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Eve Namisango, Matthew J. Allsop, Richard A. Powell, Stefan J. Friedrichsdorf, Emmanuel BK. Luyirika, Fatia Kiyange, Edward Mukooza, Chris Ntege, Eunice Garanganga, Mavis Ntombifuthi Ginindza – Mdluli, Faith Mwangi-Powell, Lidia Justino Mondlane, Richard Harding

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number3
Early online date16 Nov 2017
Accepted/In press7 Nov 2017
E-pub ahead of print16 Nov 2017
PublishedMar 2018


King's Authors


Context Sub-Saharan Africa faces an increasing incidence and prevalence of life-limiting and life-threatening conditions. These conditions are associated with a significant burden of pain linked to high morbidity and disability that is poorly assessed and undertreated. Barriers to effective pain management partly relate to lack of access to opioid analgesia and challenges in their administration.

Objectives To identify country-specific and broader regional barriers to access, as well as the administration of opioids, and generate recommendations for advancing pain management in Southern Africa.

Methods A parallel mixed methods design was used across three countries: Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Three activities were undertaken: (i) a review of regulatory and policy documentation; (ii) group interviews, and; (iii) a self-administered key informant survey.

Results Barriers to accessing opioid analgesics for medical use include: overly restrictive controlled medicines’ laws; use of stigmatizing language in key documents; inaccurate actual opioid consumption estimation practices; knowledge gaps in the distribution, storage and prescription of opioids; critical shortage of prescribers, and; high out-of-pocket financial expenditures for patients against a backdrop of high levels of poverty.

Conclusion Policies and relevant laws should be updated to ensure the legislative environment supports opioid access for pain management. Action plans for improving pain treatment for patients suffering from HIV or non-communicable diseases should address barriers at the different levels of the supply chain that involve policymakers, administrators and service providers.

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