It took Gily Ncube’s daughters two weeks to sell enough chickens to raise the 18 dollars needed to buy the morphine tablets their mother takes every four hours. In a country where unemployment is estimated at 70 percent, 18 dollars for a bottle of 60 tablets of 10 milligrammes (mg) each is a steep price to pay, equivalent to about 18 loaves of bread.
By Busani Bafana as published by IPS
But the small, rural family had no choice – morphine is the only drug that eases Ncube’s pain so she can get to sleep at night. Ncube (not her real name) has stage four cancer of the cervix and is now almost completely bedridden. Even more than treatment, she desires some relief from the pain brought on by her condition. Morphine, a controlled drug derived from opium, provides Ncube and other patients like herself a little comfort. A daily dose of about 40 mg enables Ncube to sit up, even do a few chores around the house.
But at current prices, few can afford the drug, or access it when needed.
Pain is scrawled all over Ncube’s face as she narrates her tale: for six months now she has been on the waiting list to undergo radiotherapy at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, located about 430 kilometres south-west of the capital Harare. The radiotherapy machine has been broken for longer than she has been waiting and a new one is only now being installed.
“The pain is unimaginable,” Ncube told IPS in her home. Pointing to a white plastic bottle filled with paracetamol, a mild painkiller, she added, “That is all I could get from the hospital.”
Still, of the roughly 7,000 cancer patients in the country, Ncube is one of the lucky ones – she receives help, and sometimes a supply of morphine, from the Bulawayo Island Hospice that has been operating here since 1982.
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