June 10, 2011

WORLD: Millions lack access to palliative care, says report

CHATSWOOD, NSW, Australia / Mercator.net / June 10, 2011

By Michael Cook

CAREFUL! Tens of millions of people worldwide are denied access to inexpensive medications for severe pain, Human Rights Watch said in a report released earlier this month.

The 128-page report, "Global State of Pain Treatment: Access to Palliative Care as a Human Right," details the failure of many governments to take even basic steps to ensure that people with severe pain due to cancer, HIV, and other serious illnesses have access to palliative care. As a result, millions of patients live and die in great agony that could easily be prevented, Human Rights Watch said.

Experts estimate that 60 percent of those who die each year in low- and middle-income countries - 33 million people - need palliative care. In these countries, most cancer patients are diagnosed when they already have advanced disease and can no longer be cured. The only treatment option is palliative care. In high-income countries, palliative care needs are increasing with aging populations and the resulting higher cancer incidence.

The report is based on a survey of policy barriers to palliative care in 40 countries and an assessment of the availability of pain-relieving drugs worldwide. Human Rights Watch found that in 35 of 192 countries reviewed, fewer than 1% of patients with moderate to severe pain from terminal cancer or HIV could get the strong pain medications they needed. These countries are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, but some are in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Central America.

Availability of strong pain medications is very limited in many of the world's most populous countries, Human Rights Watch found. At least 100,000 people die from cancer or HIV/AIDS each year without access to adequate pain treatment in countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Russia, and South Africa.

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