Pain in Africa
Drugs in Africa: A lot of pain
Africans need more morphine
GERARD was five years old when he died this year of AIDS. He lived in a slum in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and was nursed by his mother. “I could tell he was in a lot of pain,” she says. Yet Gerard received no relief except for ibuprofen, a mild painkiller.
The International Narcotics Control Board, a UN body that oversees controlled drugs, says 90% of the world’s morphine is administered in rich countries. By contrast, morphine and other painkillers such as pethidine and dihydrocodeine are hard to find in state systems in poor countries. So Africans with AIDS, cancer, sickle-cell disease, victims of car crashes, gunshot and machete wounds, and women in labour, suffer severe pain without relief.
Kenya is ahead of many African countries in palliative care, with its own hospice movement, but only seven of its 250 hospitals have ready access to morphine. Even when it is in stock, the annual supply is limited to some 1,500 patients. Yet 180,000 Kenyans die each year of AIDS and cancer alone. A 75mg daily dose of morphine would make all the difference.