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Dying children not getting painkillers

Children with cancer and Aids in Kenya are needlessly living, and dying, in pain because they are not being given cheap painkillers, campaigners say.

Painkillers in the East African country are cheap, safe, and work. But policies that limit access to drugs, a lack of funding and badly trained health workers, mean the children who need these medicines are not getting them, says a new report.

Most Kenyan children suffering cancer or HIV/Aids can’t get proper care or pain medicines, says the study by Human Rights Watch.

The country does run a few care and pain treatment services for people who are chronically ill or dying, but these are failing to reach most children who need them, it found. Most sick children are looked after at home, but there is little support for cheap at-home care, said the 78-page report, Needless pain. Health care workers don’t have proper training in treating pain and even when strong painkillers 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," said Juliane Kippenberg from Human Rights Watch. "Pain medicines are cheap, safe, and effective, and the government should make sure that children who need them get them."

Five-year-old Gerard lived and died in the Kibera shanty town in the capital, from complications brought on by HIV/Aids.

"My son had severe pain sometimes, especially some abdominal pains,” his mother said. “There were times that he would use those pain killers paracetamol and ibuprofen and the pain would just persist. I could tell he was in a lot of pain because he was just stiffened and you could see he was really struggling. He died in pain."

Kenya’s drug policy agrees with the World Health Organization agree that morphine is a key treatment for severe pain. The country’s morphine stocks can only treat a fraction of its people with terminal cancer or aids.

About 150,000 Kenyan children have Aids, and 100,000 Kenyans die from AIDS each year.

"The Kenyan government, and donors, should be working to improve pain treatment for everyone,” Ms Kippenberg said.

"And they should make sure that the youngest and most vulnerable sufferers, sick children, are not left out. They should not be suffering needlessly."

Hayley attribution