The World Health Organization estimates that eighty percent of the world's population, including tens of millions of people worldwide who suffer from moderate to severe pain, does not have adequate access to pain treatment. This includes 5.5 million terminal cancer and 1 million end-stage AIDS patients. Much of their suffering could be prevented if morphine, an inexpensive, effective and safe medication that is generally not difficult to administer, was available. However, in more than 150 countries around the world, access to morphine is virtually non-existent.[1] One of the key reasons for this unacceptable state of affairs is a failure by many governments around the world to take reasonable steps to ensure the availability of this essential medicine.

 

Common barriers to pain treatment availability include the failure by states to

  • Ensure a functioning supply and distribution systems for opioid medications;
  • Enact adequate policies on pain management and palliative care;
  • Ensure relevant instruction for healthcare workers;
  • Reform excessively strict drug-control regulations;
  • Address widespread fear of legal sanctions for prescribing opioid medications among healthcare workers; and
  • Take steps to ensure the affordability of morphine and other pain medications. Failure by states to take reasonable steps to remove these barriers violates right to health.

Through research, Human Rights Watch seeks to give voice to the suffering of people experiencing severe pain. Our advocacy urges countries to take steps to ensure that pain medications are available, that healthcare workers receive adequate training, and that governments put in place policies to promote palliative care. We also seek acceptance of access to palliative care as a human rights issue by governments and international organizations alike.

 

Human Rights Watch Publications on Access to Pain Treatment and Palliative Care

Press Releases and Commentaries:

"Governments Should Improve Access to Pain Treatment," (October 10, 2008)

"UN: Stop Needless Suffering," (March 2, 2009)

"India: Provide Access to Pain Treatment," (October 28, 2009)

"India: Ensure Access to Pain Treatment," (February 12, 2010)

"Access to Pain Treatment as a Human Right," (March 1, 2010)

"Pain Relief: a Human Right," (July 26, 2010)

"Kenya: Provide Treatment for Children in Pain," (September 9, 2010)

Reports:

"Please, do not make us suffer any more...": Access to Pain Treatment as a Human Right

Unbearable Pain: India's Obligation to Ensure Palliative Care

Needless Pain: Government Failure to Provide Palliative Care for Children in Kenya

Statements and Fact Sheets:

"Drug Access and Access to Controlled Medicines: A Global View"

"Ten Reasons Why Access to Controlled Medicines is an Issue for the CND"

"UN Drug Summit: Undo Decade of Neglect"

Submission to the Committee against Torture Regarding Cameroon's Fourth Periodic Report

Submission to the Human Rights Committee regarding Cameroon's Fourth Periodic Report

Attempt to Restrict Access to Buprenorphine Compromises HIV Prevention and Treatment Efforts

Drug Policy and Human Rights

Human Rights Watch Recommendations in advance of EU-Russia Human Rights Consultations

Multimedia:

Right to Relief: Palliative Care in India

Kenya: Government Failure to Provide Palliative Care for Children

 

Human Rights Watch Advocacy on International Drug Policy

Our advocacy seeks to achieve broad acceptance of access to palliative care as a human rights issue by UN human rights bodies. We want these bodies to routinely address the issue of palliative care in their discussions with UN member states. We are engaging various UN human rights bodies on palliative care as a human right. Whenever possible, we will submit information to UN bodies to ensure that palliative care and pain treatment are raised during visits to and meetings about specific countries

Submission to the Committee against Torture Regarding Cameroon's Fourth Periodic Report

Submission to the Human Rights Committee regarding Cameroon's Fourth Periodic Report

"Ten Reasons Why Access to Controlled Medicines is an Issue for the CND"

"UN: Stop Needless Suffering," (March 2, 2009)

 

More from Human Rights Watch on Access to Pain Treatment and Palliative Care:

UN Human Rights Experts Call upon CND to Support Harm Reduction

Letter from the International AIDS Society to the Chairperson of the CND

[1] Statement of Professor Sevil Atasoy, President of the International Narcotics Control Board, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, 30 July 2009, http://www.incb.org/documents/President_statements_09/2009_ECOSOC_Substantive_Session_published.pdf