By Human Rights Watch
Published September 9, 2010
Kenyan children in acute and chronic pain suffer needlessly because of government policies that restrict access to inexpensive pain medicines, a lack of investment in palliative care services, and inadequately trained health workers, Human Rights Watch says in a report released on September 9, 2010.
The 78-page report, “Needless Pain: Government Failure to Provide Palliative Care for Children in Kenya,” says that most Kenyan children with diseases such as cancer or HIV/AIDS are unable to get palliative care or pain medicines. Kenya’s few palliative care services provide counseling and support to families of chronically ill patients, as well as pain treatment, but lack programmes for children. In addition, the majority of sick children are cared for at home, but there is little support for low-cost home-based palliative care. Health care workers lack training in pain treatment and palliative care, and even when strong pain medicines are available, they are often reluctant to give these medicines to children.
“Kenyan children with cancer or AIDS are living, and dying, in horrible agony,” says Juliane Kippenberg, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Pain medicines are cheap, safe, and effective, and the government should make sure that children who need them get them.”
The World Health Organisation considers oral morphine an essential medicine for treating chronic pain, as does Kenya’s own drug policy. A daily dose can cost as little as a few cents. Yet, the Kenyan government does not purchase oral morphine for public health facilities as it does other essential medicines. As a result, oral morphine is available in just seven of the country’s approximately 250 public hospitals. Although 250,000 people in Kenya are on antiretroviral treatment, all the morphine in the country could treat pain in only 1,500 terminal cancer or AIDS patients.
More than 1.5 million Kenyans are living with HIV/AIDS, including about 150,000 children, and 100,000 Kenyans die from AIDS each year.
Saying international donors are also neglecting pain treatment, Kippenberg aapeals to the Kenyan government and donors “to be working to improve pain treatment for everyone. And they should make sure that the youngest and most vulnerable sufferers, sick children, are notleft out. They should not be suffering needlessly.”