Example 6: Advocating for Access to Pain Relief Through United Nations Mechanisms

Project Type: Advocacy

The Organization 

Human Rights Watch
New York, USA
Website: www.hrw.org                                                                                                                             Founded over 30 years ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) is a leading independent organization that protects and defends human rights across the globe. They conduct objective and rigorous investigations and engage in vigorous advocacy efforts.

Health and Human Rights Division
As part of Human Rights Watch’s long commitment to defending human rights, the organization has been reporting on issues related to health and human rights for many years. Human Rights Watch’s work has examined how such rights as freedom of speech, expression, assembly and information; freedom from discrimination and arbitrary detention; property rights; bodily autonomy, protection from violence, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture; and the right to health care intersect with the realization of the right to health. Investigations and advocacy have particularly focused upon the health of vulnerable populations, including women, children prisons displaced persons, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) persons, drug users, ethnic and racial minorities, and migrant workers.  www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/related_material/HRW_healthbrochure_low.pdf.

The Problem 

Governments have the positive obligation to protect their people from unnecessary pain related to a health condition. Additionally, governments have a negative obligation not to arbitrarily interfere with the provision of essential health services.

Millions require controlled medications, like morphine, for treatment of moderate to severe pain. However, in over 150 countries across the world, access to palliative care medication is virtually non-existent. These medicines are unavailable or inaccessible in many countries because of overregulation and/or problems with supply and distribution systems for controlled medicines. Governments that report low consumption of morphine to the International Narcotics Control Board relative to the number of its citizens suffering from HIV/AIDS or cancer indicates a substantial gap between those suffering and in need of pain management and the actual accessibility of palliative care medicines

Actions Taken 

Human Rights Watch advocates for palliative care as a human right, including increased access to medications to manage and relieve pain. Its advocacy efforts include country reports and outreach to UN human rights bodies, including the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the World Health Assembly. Actions taken include:

Results and Lessons Learned 

HRW’s continued advocacy has brought attention the issues of the international narcotics conventions and access to essential medicines for palliative care. Their reports highlight the issue areas and document human rights violations.