The Pain Project is an ongoing investigation into the lack of access to morphine, the gold standard for treating pain. A team of students and faculty from the International Reporting Program at the University of British Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism traveled to India, Ukraine and Uganda to investigate how, faced with this lack of access, such countries manage the pain of patients suffering from cancer and other terminal diseases.
The IRP, which began in 2008, is the result of a gift from Alison Lawton and Mindset Social Innovation Foundation and offers graduate students of the School an opportunity to tell stories of underreported issues around the world.
The Pain Project includes a documentary for Al Jazeera, “Freedom from Pain,” which aired on July 20, 2011. Canadian broadcaster Global’s magazine program “16×9″ also featured a two-part series on the project, which aired in October, 2011.
The IRP’s first documentary, “Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground,” was produced in partnership with PBS Frontline/WORLD and won the 2010 Emmy Award for Outstanding Magazine Investigative Reporting. Its second project, “Cheap Shrimp: Hidden Costs,” was an online multimedia project for The Globe and Mail and was nominated for a prestigious Online News Association Award.
In the course of its investigation for the Pain Project, the IRP crew discovered that more than half the countries in the world have little to no access to morphine. After traveling to India, Ukraine and Uganda, its members then went to the United Nations to challenge diplomats on the blunt drug laws that curtail access to legitimate medical opiates. The executive director of the UN Office of Drug Crimes subsequently admitted on camera that the side effect of his work is that patients around the world suffer needlessly.
The website includes a color-coded map that shows the scope of the problem. There are pages devoted to each of the countries visited by the IRP team, which include video sketches that showcase the stories of patients struggling with pain — and the caregivers who have gone up against intractable systems in order to help them. It also includes links to the documentary produced with Al Jazeera and the report prepared for the United Nations Conference on Non-Communicable Diseases, which is devoted to discussing the treatment of overlooked global diseases like cancer. A timeline on the history of morphine is provided as well.