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Malaysian pain undertreated compared to other countries

Rachel Soon
Medical Writer
02 Oct 2020

Many Malaysians choose to delay seeking treatment for pain and are less likely to do so than residents of other countries, according to a recent international consumer study.

In a report from the Global Pain Index (GPI) 2020 study, over 85 percent of Malaysian respondents said they had experienced some form of pain in the last year, with the top five most common being headache (89 percent), tension headache (80 percent), muscle ache (77 percent), period pain (71 percent), and joint pain (70 percent).

However, only 38 percent of respondents said they chose to seek treatment immediately for pain, with 56 percent preferring to wait hours (38 percent) or days to weeks (18 percent) before treating it. Six percent said they never treated their pain.

Malaysian respondents were also less likely to medicate for pain compared to the global average in the study, with only 48 percent of respondents reported taking pain medication (vs 65 percent globally). In contrast, 74 percent reported preferring to rest or sleep to deal with pain issues.

Thirty-one percent of Malaysian respondents said they avoided taking pain medication in general, with the commonest reasons cited including possible dependency (29 percent) and adverse effects (25 percent).

The GPI 2020 study was conducted by Edelman Intelligence UK and commissioned by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Healthcare, with its results being announced at a virtual press event in September. Consisting of a 25-minute online survey, the study examined 19 countries with a representative sample of 1,000 respondents (across age, gender, and region) interviewed from each country.

Improving health literacy around pain

Speaking at the press event, Dr Gopinathan Raju, consultant anaesthetist and pain management specialist, noted that it was important for healthcare professionals to help educate patients and dispel myths regarding common over-the-counter pharmacological treatments for pain, such as those surrounding tolerance, adverse effects, drug-drug interactions, and special demographic groups.

“Research has shown that long periods of unrelieved pain can lead to adverse psychological and physical complications,” added Shawn Roy, GSK Consumer Insight Lead, South East Asia and Taiwan.  “In fact, the GPI 2020 showed 67 percent of Malaysians believed that pain decreases their quality of life.”

Roy highlighted that delayed or untreated pain had negative impacts not only on individuals, but on broader socioeconomic areas. He noted that the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) Man-Days Lost and Absenteeism Survey 2019 estimated productivity losses of over 10.7 million man-days due to sick leave taken by workers between June 2018 and May 2019. [https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2019/11/542802/mef-107-million-man-days-lost-sick-leave]

According to Bryan Wong, general manager, GSK Consumer Healthcare Malaysia, the GPI 2020 results also showed a low level of health literacy among respondents comparable with the findings of the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS 2019), which reported low health literacy among 35.1 percent of adults aged 18 years and above.

“Given the data … it is very important to provide accessible and easy-to-digest health information with verified sources on the right channels to empower and improve the community’s health literacy,” said Wong.

At the same event, GSK Consumer Healthcare Malaysia announced a collaboration with Watsons Malaysia on a health literacy campaign called ‘Know Your Medicine, Find the Right Relief’ to be conducted on social media, digital and broadcast platforms, and physical stores nationally. According to GSK representatives, it aims “to educate and increase Malaysians’ access to medicine knowledge which will help in [the] pain management journey and enable enhancement of the quality of life of the overall population.”

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