Suffering more, speaking less

by | June 21, 2017

Many Singaporeans suffer from pain and they tend to suffer in silence.

BY: Eleanor Yap

Singaporeans ignore, power through or delay treatment of their pain which comes at a cost of the economy of approximately two percent of the nation’s GDP every day due to missed work and reduced workplace productive. This is according to the 2017 GSK Global Pain Index of 19,000 adults across 32 countries, including Singapore, commissioned by GSK Consumer Healthcare, which also found that Southeast Asian countries rank amongst the highest in the world for sufferers living with everyday pain. In Singapore, 500 people were surveyed of different ages, including those 55 and older.

The survey found that 85 percent of Singaporeans suffered from head and body pain, with nearly half or 42 percent suffering weekly from body pain. It also found that one in two suffer in silence, more commonly men (61 percent) than women (46 percent); one-third delay pain relief by weeks or even longer. When the pain hits, it often limits sufferers and impacts their mood and stops them from going out. And if they act, most tend to self-diagnose and/or get advice from their family members or check information on the Internet. However, if the pain gets too much, sufferers then choose to go to the doctor.


From left to right: Fitness enthusiast Kelly Latimer, Dr Yeo Sow Nam, Dr Wong Li Lian and Professor Eric Finkelstein, at the survey press conference.

Lowest levels of knowledge

The survey also further revealed that Singaporeans have one of the lowest levels of knowledge around pain relief medicines. This includes dosing (24 percent), potential risks (15 percent), side effects (15 percent), ingredients (11 percent) or interactions with other medicines (10 percent). This is worrying especially with Singaporeans’ self-diagnosing practice and that they might not be taking the right medications.

Dr Wong Li Lian, senior lecturer, Department of Pharmacy, National University of Singapore (NUS), during a press conference, shared that a medication that works for someone may not work well for another and the dose may be wrong. Professor Eric Finkelstein from the Health Services Research Program, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore, added that in Asia, many people turn to traditional medicines but he questioned whether they are then effective for the pain.

In general, pain contributes to productivity losses in Singapore which are estimated at S$8.4 billion annually. However, the good news is that six to 10 Singaporeans are interested in learning more about their medicines.

Shared Dr Yeo Sow Nam, director of The Pain Specialist, Mount Elizabeth Hospital and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, “Despite the availability of many suitable and effective options for treating pain, it is concerning that Singaporeans tend to suffer in silence for longer than they should, causing a huge burden both at a national and individual level especially for those who suffer from pain weekly. It is important that people take effective steps to address their pain.”

Added NUS’ Dr Wong: “There are avenues for people [to deal with their pain], such as pharmacists where they can ask for more information. People can then make a decision.”


The next steps

So what is GSK doing as a result of these findings? The company shared that it has launched a pilot programme called myPharmAssist in Malaysia and has plans to extend it to Southeast Asia over the next couple of years. The specialised programme created by pharmacists for pharmacists is aimed at increasing pharmacists’ understanding of diseases or conditions and support them in their interactions with consumers looking to identify and manage various conditions including pain and the common cold. Shared GSK: “Through this, we aim to empower community pharmacists beyond recommending medicines so that they can encourage pain sufferers to inquire more about their condition so they can make informed decisions. In Malaysia, we aim to train 8,000 community pharmacists and pharmacy assistance by 2018.”

For consumers, GSK is rolling out the Health at Home programme this month, starting with Malaysia and Singapore. The company shared that this programme will help dispel common myths and educate people on how to choose the right medicines, the importance of reading labels, correct dosage, safe storage, and proper disposal of medicines so “they can confidently and effectively treat their pain and fever”.











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