Friday, October 25, 2013

Senegal: Thousands Urgently Need Pain Relief

You’re waiting and waiting and finally the doctor gives you a diagnosis: you have cancer. But what does that have to with human rights? In Senegal, tens of thousands of patients suffer from agonizing pain with no relief in sight. According to a report entitled “Abandoned in Agony: Cancer and the struggle for Pain Treatment in Senegal,” 70,000 people in Senegal are in need of pain relief care due to chronic, life-threatening diseases such as cancer. Morphine is an indispensable and cheap drug for treatment of severe pain. However, surprisingly, Senegal only imports enough morphine to treat 200 cancer patients. Furthermore, the medication is only available to people in the nation’s capital, Dakar, making it practically impossible for patients in more rural areas to gain access.

But if the drug is inexpensive, why can’t Senegal just buy more? Doctors’ lack of training, poor drug supply, and unnecessarily strict regulations for importing medication are the main reasons for Senegal’s lack of pain relief medication for patients in need. According to Human Rights Watch, denying access to pain relief may result in a violation of the right to health under international law and the Senegalese Constitution, as well as a violation of the strict prohibitions against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

It’s not as though the medication is being requested for people who don’t deserve it or even for people with serious short-term pain, like broken bones. Far from it. These people are suffering from excruciating and long term pain that will not disappear anytime soon. When one’s life becomes centered around the pain one feels, life cannot be enjoyed and is hardly even bearable. Although lack of pain medication is not normally what comes to mind when one thinks of human rights violations, it is a serious problem that could be remedied with better rules and regulations regarding medication distribution and would save thousands of Senegalese from unnecessary suffering.

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