Human Rights Watch Releases Report on Lack of Palliative Care in Armenia

Human Rights Watch, HRWHuman Rights Watch released a video and a report on July 14 titled “‘All I Can Do Is Cry’: Cancer and the Struggle for Palliative Care in Armenia.” The 86-page report describes the devastating impact of the lack of palliative care in Armenia on people with advanced cancer and their families.

The report highlights the Armenian government’s overly restrictive regulations for getting strong pain medication, and describes ingrained practices among healthcare professionals that prevent adequate pain relief, and the lack of training and education of healthcare professionals in palliative care.

“Terminal cancer patients in Armenia face pain, fear, and anguish, often with no or little professional support,” said Giorgi Gogia, senior South Caucasus researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The healthcare system abandons them at the most vulnerable times of their lives. Armenia needs to fix its health policies and drug regulations to put safe and effective pain medicines within reach of people who need them.”

According to Human Rights Watch research, about 8,000 people die from cancer in Armenia every year, many of them in excruciating but avoidable pain because they cannot get adequate access to pain medications. While effective, safe, and inexpensive pain medications such as morphine are available in Armenia, most patients and their families face insurmountable bureaucratic barriers to getting them, in violation of the right to health.

From 2010 to 2012 Armenia consumed an average of 1.1 kilograms of morphine per year, enough to treat about 3 percent of those estimated to need it. Other services that help people ease end-of-life pain and suffering are also largely unavailable.

“The pains are unbearable,” Gayane G., a 46-year-old cancer patient told Human Rights Watch. “I cry, scream, feel like I’m walking on fire all the time. I try to endure the pain when someone is at home, but when I am alone, all I can do is cry.”

The severe obstacles to good palliative care in Armenia deny patients adequate medical treatment, and violate the right to health, Human Rights Watch said. Armenia’s lack of action to improve access to essential pain medicines may also violate its obligation to protect patients from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

“Armenia’s government should reform its restrictive drug regulations and introduce oral morphine to alleviate the suffering of thousands of patients,” Gogia said.