Ukraine Palliative Care


PODCAST: A new report shows that Ukraine is far behind the rest of Europe when it comes to providing morphine. With Diederik Lohman and Victoria Tymoshevska.

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This video by the Open Society foundation in Ukraine takes a look at life for patients who are not given adequate palliative care and pain relief.


The Severity of Cancer Pain: 
More than 80,000 Ukrainians develop moderate to severe cancer pain each year. If not treated, these people face prolonged suffering—often for months. The pain incapacitates them, interferes with their sleep, and makes normal interaction with family and friends difficult. Many such patients have told Human Rights Watch their suffering was so severe they would prefer to die rather than have to live with their pain.

Treatment is Effective, Safe and Inexpensive: 
According to the World Health Organization, “[m]ost, if not all, pain due to cancer could be relieved if we implemented existing medical knowledge and treatments.” Oral morphine, an opioid analgesic, is the cornerstone of cancer pain treatment. The medication is highly effective, safe, inexpensive, and generally easy to administer.

Treatment in Ukraine is Limited:
Most patients in Ukraine have no or very limited access to these medications, condemning them to unnecessary suffering. According to the United Nations, the availability of opioid pain medications in Ukraine is “very inadequate.”

Government Policies Need to Change:
The failure of the Ukrainian government to make oral morphine available through the public healthcare system, together with unnecessarily restrictive drug regulations which complicate prescribing and dispensing injectable morphine, are two key causes of the pain treatment gap. Finally, public medical schools do not teach evidence-based pain treatment approaches to medical students.


The Ukrainian government needs to take the following steps to end the unnecessary suffering of cancer patients from severe pain:

  • Introduce oral morphine in the public healthcare system. Only two other European countries—Armenia and Azerbaijan—do not stock oral morphine. Write to the Ukrainian government to ask it to introduce oral morphine.
  • Reform unnecessarily restrictive drug regulations to ensure essential medical treatment is available for patients with cancer pain.
  • Train health care workers in modern pain treatment approaches.
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