Consumption of medical opium for pain relief in India is low, despite the country being one of the main world producers of the substance. We investigated obstacles to opioid use and physician perceptions about optimal pain management in pediatric oncology patients in India.
Semistructured interviews were conducted with oncologists who work in pediatric oncology settings. A mixed sampling strategy was used, including maximum variation and confirmation and disconfirmation of cases, as well as snowball sampling. Key informants were identified. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed by thematic analysis methodology.
Twenty-three interviews were performed across 20 Indian institutions. The main obstacles identified were lack of financial resources, inadequate education of health care providers on pain management, insufficient human resources (particularly lack of dedicated trained oncology nurses), poor access to opioids, and cultural perceptions about pain. Children from rural areas, treated in public hospitals, and from lower socioeconomic classes appear disadvantaged. A significant equality gap exists between public institutions and private institutions, which provide state-of-the-art treatment.
The study illuminates the complexity of pain management in pediatric oncology in India, where financial constraints, lack of education, and poor access to opioids play a dominant role, but lack of awareness and cultural perceptions about pain management among health care providers and parents emerged as important contributing factors. Urgent interventions are needed to optimize care in this vulnerable population.