Page last updated at 16:25 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

India's sick 'suffer needlessly'

By Elettra Neysmith
BBC News

Indian women
There are more than one million advanced cancer patients in India

Hundreds of thousands of sick people in India are suffering unnecessary and excruciating pain because of a lack of funds, according to a new report.

The Human Rights Watch group says that budgetary constraints result in poor medical training, restrictive drug regulations and poor patient care.

The group says that many major cancer hospitals do not provide patients with the painkilling drug, morphine.

This is even though it has a reputation as an effective form of pain relief.

More than 70% of cancer sufferers in India have an incurable form of the disease, Human Rights watch (HRW) says.

It is estimated that more 500,000 advanced cancer patients are left to suffer.

HRW health researcher Diederik Lohman says that the main problem is a lack of government leadership.

"It just hasn't integrated palliative care - or the alleviation of illness-related pain - into treatment programmes," he said.

"And it's not just cancer. People living with HIV are also neglected. Doctors simply aren't trained and in many states, restrictive drug regulations add to the problem.

"The irony is that India provides excellent private healthcare. Ironic too is the fact that it's one of the world's biggest legal producers of opium - the raw material for morphine. But almost all of that is exported."

Severe pain is a common symptom among cancer patients, particularly during the last stages of the disease.

HRW estimates that there are more than one million advanced cancer patients in India who experience severe pain in any given year.

In addition many other patients, including those with HIV, TB or other infections or illness, may face acute or chronic pain.

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