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Those dying in Senegal lack morphine

DAKAR, Senegal — Tens of thousands of people in Senegal struggling with advanced cancer and other illnesses are left with only basic headache medicines to treat their pain because the country does not have enough morphine in stock, according to a report released Thursday.

Only about 2.2 pounds of the powerful opioid drug is available each year in the West African country — enough for fewer than 200 people, Human Rights Watch found. As a result, those already confronting the pain of death are now spending their final months often unable to sleep or eat because of their agony.

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Fatoumata Seck, a 33-year-old woman from Mali battling advanced cervical cancer, described her pain without morphine as ‘‘infernal.’’ She told Human Rights Watch it was ‘‘by far the worst pain’’ she’d ever felt in her life, even after having delivered six babies.

Morphine’s use has long been strictly regulated because of the potential for addiction and overdose. Advocates, though, say as a result people in the final stages of cancer are needlessly dying in excruciating pain.

As in many West African countries, Senegalese families struggle to pay not only the costs of medical care but also for travel expenses to hospitals and clinics in the capital. Early screening for cancer is often not available or out of reach financially.

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