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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate

Pain as a global public health priority

Daniel S Goldberg1* and Summer J McGee2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Bioethics & Interdisciplinary Studies, Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University, 600 Moye Blvd, Mailstop 641, Greenville, N.C. 27834, USA

2 Department of Health Policy & Management, University of Kansas School of Medicine/KU Medical Center, Center for Practical Bioethics, The Harzfeld Building, 1111 Main St. Ste. 500 Kansas City, MO 64105, USA

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:770  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-770

Published: 6 October 2011



Pain is an enormous problem globally. Estimates suggest that 20% of adults suffer from pain globally and 10% are newly diagnosed with chronic pain each year. Nevertheless, the problem of pain has primarily been regarded as a medical problem, and has been little addressed by the field of public health.


Despite the ubiquity of pain, whether acute, chronic or intermittent, public health scholars and practitioners have not addressed this issue as a public health problem. The importance of viewing pain through a public health lens allows one to understand pain as a multifaceted, interdisciplinary problem for which many of the causes are the social determinants of health. Addressing pain as a global public health issue will also aid in priority setting and formulating public health policy to address this problem, which, like most other chronic non-communicable diseases, is growing both in absolute numbers and in its inequitable distribution across the globe.


The prevalence, incidence, and vast social and health consequences of global pain requires that the public health community give due attention to this issue. Doing so will mean that health care providers and public health professionals will have a more comprehensive understanding of pain and the appropriate public health and social policy responses to this problem.