Guatemala’s First Prescription for Oral Morphine
By Mary Callaway
The first-ever prescription in Guatemala for immediate release oral morphine was written yesterday for a 72-year-old woman with advanced head and neck cancer. The prescribing doctor, Eva Duarte—an International Pain Policy Fellow and Leadership Development Fellow of the Open Society Foundations—has been working for the past several years with Guatemala’s government to eliminate barriers to the availability of opioid analgesics, especially oral morphine, for patients suffering from life-limiting diseases.
Patients can now get oral morphine through prescription at the INCAN cancer institute and hospital. The pain medication will become available in public hospitals in the near future. The availability of oral morphine for patients in Guatemala is indicative of the change that can take place by determined government officials and extraordinary, committed leaders like Dr. Duarte who simply won’t stop pushing to make essential palliative care medications available.
Oral morphine remains the mainstay of treatment for patients suffering from severe cancer pain and pain from other serious illnesses such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and cardiovascular, degenerative neurologic, and renal failure conditions. Pain relief is a basic human right. The medications are inexpensive, and we now have doctors and medical staff in every region of the world with the knowledge and expertise to help patients in pain. What we lack is the government will to make change happen.
To bring about this change, the Open Society Foundations are partnering with grantees and health care workers worldwide in the fight to relieve the unnecessary suffering of millions of people.
Until January 2015, Mary Callaway was the project director of the International Palliative Care Initiative with the Open Society Public Health Program.