WHO guidelines on persisting pain in children

The WHO guidelines on the pharmacological treatment of persisting pain in children with medical illnesses address the pharmacological treatment of persisting pain, including cancer pain. As such, it replaces the previous guidelines, Cancer pain and palliative care in children, which exclusively covered cancer pain. The new guidelines on Persisting pain in children are the first of a series of three guidelines documents on all types of pain in both adults and children.

This package consists of four publications and four tools:

  • WHO guidelines on the pharmacological treatment of persisting pain in children with medical illnesses.
  • Three brochures with important information for
    • physicians and nurses
    • pharmacists
    • policy-makers and medicines regulatory authorities, hospital managers and health insurance managers
  • Dosing card
  • Pain Scale for children (4 years of age and up)
  • Pain Scale for children (6 – 10 years)
  • Wall chart for waiting rooms

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 5.7 billion people live in countries where moderate and severe pain is not adequately treated. Data from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) for 2009 show that more than 90 percent of the global consumption of strong opioids occurred in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and several other European countries. This means that their availability was very limited in many countries and regions. Over 80% of the world population will have insufficient

Medicines for opioid analgesia, such as morphine, are subject to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, and its 1972 Protocol. As a result, the focus has historically been on prevention of misuse, dependence and diversion while medical access has been neglected. In recent years, growing recognition of the legitimate use of these substances for medical and scientific purposes has resulted in a shift in emphasis. For instance, both the United Nations Economic and Social Council’s resolution 2005/25 and the 2005 World Health Assembly resolution WHA 58.22 on cancer prevention and control called on countries, and international bodies such as WHO and the INCB, to remove barriers to the medical use of such analgesics. Mechanisms behind the impeded access to opioid analgesics and other controlled medicines are of various natures. They include legal and policy issues, and several educational issues at all levels, from patients and their families to physicians and policy-makers.

All policy-makers have an important role to play in improving the current unfortunate situation. WHO recommends that authorities and policy-makers responsible for expanding pain relief treatment in the health system assess national control regulations for the production, procurement, storage, distribution, prescription, dispensing and administration of opioid analgesics (and other controlled medicines).

Countries that have very strict laws and policies that do not allow ready access to pain treatment should endeavour to make them less restrictive and more practicable. WHO has developed guidelines that elaborate on the policy aspects of improving access to ensure the balance between the adequate availability for medical and scientific purposes while simultaneously preventing abuse, diversion and trafficking (2).

This brochure provides background information on the treatment of pain in children that can be helpful for ensuring adequate access to pain treatment. For more detailed information and additional references we refer to the formal pain guidelines document. This formal guidelines document is available as hardcopy at the WHO Bookshop and online at www.who.int/medicines.

In case of any discrepancy between this brochure and the guidelines document, the guidelines document should be the reference. Similar brochures are published with highlights for physicians and nurses, and for pharmacists.

Download the brochures, guidelines and charts


Policy Brochure

Brochure for Pharmacists

Brochure for Physicians & Nurses

E-Learning Course

Take the ICPCN elearning module on Pain assessment and management in children which is linked to the new WHO guidelines for persisting pain.
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