Peace at last

Davaasuren with Renchin, a patient at Mongolia's National Cancer Hospital

Fifteen years ago there was no such thing as palliative care – care for the dying – in Mongolia. Now there is, thanks to the efforts of one woman, who persuaded the country’s medical establishment that it was possible and worthwhile to prevent people dying in agony.

Odontuya Davaasuren was 17 years old, studying paediatrics far from home in Leningrad, Russia when her father died of lung cancer in Mongolia.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to care for my father or say goodbye,” she recalls. “When I returned to Mongolia, my sister told me that our father had been in constant pain.”

Several years later, as a practising doctor, she shared her apartment with her mother-in-law, who was dying of liver cancer, and she saw first-hand how pain could deprive people of peace at the end their life.

“I cared for her. I fed, washed and changed her, but I could not relieve her pain because I didn’t know how,” she says.

The only medication available for dying patients in Mongolia at the time was what you’d get for muscle pain or headaches, not the persistent pain of a tumour pressing on nerves in the upper abdomen. Nor the multiple other symptoms like constant nausea and vomiting.


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