For information only - not an official document

5 February 2018

World Cancer Day: INCB emphasizes the right to health and access to critical medicines

Vienna, 4 February (UN Information Service) - In commemorating World Cancer Day, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) reaffirms the importance of access to, availability of and rational use of medicines containing controlled substances, for the treatment of disease including cancer, in the context of the right to health.

In the case of cancer, access to and availability of opioid analgesics is essential, particularly in the late stages of the disease, for ensuring the management of pain, pain relief and the avoidance of unnecessary suffering.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) sets out the right to health as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. All people have a right to access medicines containing internationally controlled substances for the adequate treatment of health conditions. But in many parts of the world, access to opioid analgesics for the management of cancer-related pain and suffering is currently limited or non-existent.

Statistics available to INCB show that there is a serious imbalance in the availability of and access to medicines containing controlled substances - about three-quarters of the world population live in countries where access to and availability of opioid analgesics for cancer-related pain management is seriously inadequate. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 70 per cent of deaths from cancer occur in low- and-middle-income countries where preventing, treating and curing cancer early is hindered by a lack of capacity that results in delayed presentation and late diagnosis of the disease.

Without proper prevention, health-care professional development, and efforts in early detection, cancer can progress to advanced stages, when pain management and palliative care become one of the few options available. If opioid analgesics are not accessible, cancer patients will be exposed to unnecessary and often excruciating pain.

INCB urges all States to close the "global pain divide" through working to ensure that the necessary medical expertise and facilities to deal with cancer are enhanced and that the medications required to treat it are accessible, available and affordable. Cancer-related pain can be managed at affordable costs with morphine.

The Board calls on Governments to follow the Board's recommendations contained its 2015 Report on the Availability of Internationally Controlled Drugs, including ways to produce or acquire low-cost medications.

Providing access to controlled narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes is within the reach of all Governments and is part of their obligations to their citizens under the international drug control conventions.

As long as access to and availability of opioids analgesics remains limited, cancer patients will go untreated, continue to experience unnecessary pain and suffering, and the goal set in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will remain an unachievable dream.


The Vienna-based Board is an independent body, established by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, mandated to monitor and support governments' compliance with the three international drug control treaties. Its 13 members are elected by the Economic and Social Council to serve in their individual capacities for a term of five years.

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For further information, please contact:

INCB Secretariat
Telephone for media inquiries: (+43-1) 26060 4163
Email: secretariat[at]