Palliative care experts across Uganda have called for better access to medical morphine and quality palliative care for patients with terminal illnesses such as cancer and HIV/Aids.
Morphine is a narcotic drug obtained from opium used to medically relieve pain. According to the ‘Treat the Pain’ program being implemented in the country by the American Cancer Society, over 69,000 patients in Uganda require morphine annually for moderate to severe pain.
Although Moses Kamabare, the general manager of National Medical Stores (NMS), claims that the drug has been dispensed across licensed hospitals and health centres countrywide, testimonies on ground differ. For example, Lira regional referral hospital has not had morphine for four months.
This was revealed at the sixth biennial national palliative care conference held in Kampala last week. The conference theme was: ‘Palliative Care: Who Cares?”
“There is need for government to avail morphine, the most appropriate medication for the management of severe pains in health centres and homes,” said Dr Emmanuel Luyirika, the executive director of the African Palliative Care Association (APCA).
Previously, NMS has strictly regulated the dispensation of morphine given its psychotropic side effects and only medical doctors, dental surgeons and veterinary doctors were licenced to administer it.
However, now under the new Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Control Act, 2015, clinical officers and nurses are permitted to administer morphine.
“We have to still take caution that morphine does not get into the hands of people who do not need it. The new law creates the offence of illegal possession of the drug whose penalty is imprisonment for not more than 10 years,” said Kamabare.
Dr Luyirika advised that health care providers need to be educated on the prescription and administration of morphine and proper palliative care before patients have their pain managed.
Currently, Hospice Africa Uganda (HAU), with support from the American Cancer Society, produces over 1,500 bottles of liquid morphine weekly. It distributes these countrywide through NMS and Joint Medical Stores.