NPR — Dr. Odontuya Davaasuren has one goal: to improve the way people die in Mongolia.
“My father died of lung cancer, my mother died, my mother-in-law died because of liver cancer,” she says. “Even though I was a doctor, I could do nothing.”
The feeling of helplessness, and the unnecessary pain her relatives suffered, is what Davaasuren has set out to fix. She has white hair because of it, says the family doctor and professor at the Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences in Ulaanbaatar. “It’s very hard work.”
Her efforts have earned her the title “the mother of palliative care in Mongolia.” And they’ve transformed the way people die.
In global rankings on quality of death released this fall by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Mongolia stood out. It’s number 28 on the list. “Some countries with lower income levels demonstrate the power of innovation and individual initiative,” the report noted, citing Mongolia for “rapid growth in hospice facilities and teaching programs.”
That’s no small feat, regardless of a country’s income level. Palliative care is a relatively new field. Funding tends to go toward combating infectious diseases, rather than towards easing the pain for those who have incurable illness. Hospitals might not want to consider offering hospice care, because it would simply increase the number of deaths that happen on their watch. And globally, doctors and law enforcement officers fear morphine, which happens to be one of the cheapest and most effective painkillers.
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