Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others. Human Rights Watch collaborates with these courageous activists to create a world in which people live free of violence, discrimination, and oppression.

Dr. M. R. Rajagopal

© Paramount Color Lab, Ulloor, Trivandrum

Dr. M. R. Rajagopal is a leading palliative care physician from India who, for more than 20 years, has battled conditions that cause patients to suffer severe pain unnecessarily.

In India alone, a million patients with advanced cancer develop severe pain every year. Yet most hospitals do not have morphine or other strong pain relievers. Doctors are not trained in pain management, and, until recently, drug regulations aimed at combating misuse prevented healthcare institutions from stocking and dispensing morphine.

I most admire Raj’s quiet determination and humility. No matter how thankless the job or steep the odds, he just keeps at it because he knows it is the right thing to do.

Diederik Lohman

Associate Director, Health and Human Rights

Alternately wearing the hats of clinician, academic, and activist, Rajagopal is a major global force behind efforts to promote and put into practice the right of patients with severe pain to live and die with dignity. He was first confronted with the suffering caused by untreated pain when, as a medical student, he witnessed his neighbor dying in terrible pain. With his colleagues, he went on to build what is recognized as the most successful community-based palliative care program in the world. In 2012, Rajagopal’s medical institution, the Trivandrum Institute of Palliative Sciences, became a World Health Organisation Collaborating Center for Policy and Training on Access to Pain Relief.

Rajagopal and Pallium India, a nongovernmental organization he founded, have for over two decades worked to convince the Indian government to reform its narcotics regulations. Thanks in large part to these efforts, India’s central government recommended that Indian states adopt new regulations that greatly simplify access to morphine for healthcare institutions. Most recently, he played a key role in crafting amendments to a national law that creates a straightforward system of licensing and supplying opioid analgesics.

Human Rights Watch honors Dr. M. R. Rajagopal for his efforts to defend the right of patients with severe pain to live and die with dignity.