September 10, 2007 Monday
Late Edition - Final
Drugs Banned, World's
Suffer in Pain
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
Section A; Column 0; Foreign Desk; Pg. 1
WATERLOO, Sierra Leone
Although the rainy season was coming on fast, Zainabu Sesay was in no shape to help her husband.
Ditches had to be dug to protect their cassava and peanuts, and their mud hut's palm roof was sliding off.
But Mrs. Sesay was sick. She had breast cancer in a form that Western doctors rarely see anymore -- the
tumor had burst through her skin, looking like a putrid head of cauliflower weeping small amounts of blood
at its edges.
''It bone! It booonnnne lie de fi-yuh!'' she said of the pain -- it burns like fire -- in Krio, the blended
language spoken in this country where British colonizers resettled freed slaves.
No one had directly told her yet, but there was no hope -- the cancer was also in her lymph glands and
Like millions of others in the world's poorest countries, she is destined to die in pain. She cannot get the
drug she needs -- one that is cheap, effective, perfectly legal for medical uses under treaties signed by
virtually every country, made in large quantities, and has been around since Hippocrates praised its
source, the opium poppy. She cannot get morphine.
That is not merely because of her poverty, or that of Sierra Leone. Narcotics incite fear: doctors fear
addicting patients, and law enforcement officials fear drug crime. Often, the government elite who can
afford medicine for themselves are indifferent to the sufferings of the
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.8 million people a year with moderate to severe cancer
pain receive no appropriate treatment. Nor do another 1.4 million with late-stage AIDS. For other causes
of lingering pain -- burns, car accidents, gunshots, diabetic nerve damage, sickle-cell disease and so on --
it issues no estimates but believes that millions go untreated.
Figures gathered by the International Narcotics Control Board, a United Nations agency, make it clear:
nations suffer less. Six countries -- the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Britain
and Australia -- consume 79 percent of the world's morphine, according to a 2005 estimate. The
middle-income countries where 80 percent of the world's people live consumed only about 6 percent.