HealthDay News — In 2015, more than 25.5 million people who died worldwide experienced serious health-related suffering (SHS), and the vast majority lacked access to palliative care and pain relief, according to a report published online in The Lancet.

Felicia Marie Knaul, PhD, from the University of Miami in Florida, and colleagues developed a conceptual framework for measuring the global burden of SHS. They analyzed the 20 health conditions and 15 symptoms usually associated with these health conditions that cause most of the global burden of SHS.

The researchers found that more than 25.5 million people who died in 2015 — who accounted for 45% of the 56.2 million deaths recorded worldwide — experienced SHS. More than 80% of those who died with SHS were from developing regions, and the large majority had no access to palliative care and pain relief. In addition, more than 2.5 million children die with SHS each year, more than 98% of whom are from developing regions.

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In high-income countries, children account for fewer than 1% of all deaths associated with SHS, but in low-income countries, they account for more than 30% of all SHS-related deaths. Including individuals who die and those who live with life-threatening or life-limiting conditions, the researchers estimated that more than 61 million people are affected by SHS and more than 80% of them live in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) where palliative care and pain relief are scarce or nonexistent.

“Infection and poverty-associated health conditions continue to affect people in LMICs, and more than half of the SHS burden in terms of number of patients is associated with avoidable, premature deaths. Palliative care cannot be a substitute for improved access to the public health interventions and treatments that could have prevented much of the SHS and premature deaths in the first place,” the authors write.

Several authors disclosed financial ties to pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and Roche, which provided funding for the study.

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Knaul FM, Farmer PE, Krakauer EL, et al. Alleviating the access abyss in palliative care and pain relief-an imperative of universal health coverage: the Lancet Commission report [published online October 11, 2017]. Lancet. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32513-8