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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Prevention always better than a cure

A couple of years ago when I first heard of the anti-cervial cancer jab my immediate response was that with 2 young girls in the family there could be no better life long gift parents could give than the anti-cervical vaccine. The cost of about €350 per child was I thought well worth it as I could (and still can) well afford it. Every year about 80 women die of cervical cancer and while the vaccine is not effective against 100% of the causative agents of the cancer, I believe that any parent would want to protect their child’s life, long after the child has become an adult and indeed well into later life. When I grew up I lived near a polio hospital and played football against the teenage residents. It is quite extraordinary that due to scientific advances and vaccine, polio is now effectively extinct in Europe within the last 35 years. It is natural for a parent to do what they can to protect their child regardless of cost.

That’s why many parents are astounded by the latest cut back announced by Mary Harney, the Independent FF Minister for Health & Children. Taking advantage of the media spotlight on the US presidential election, Minister Harney announced the axing of the programme to immunise 12 year old girls against cervical cancer. Her reason? She can’t spare the €10M. It's not so long go during the Foot and Mouth Crisis of 2001 that when the suggestion of vaccinating livestock against FMD was floated and there was no suggestion of a prohibitive cost.

The matter was raised this week in the Dail and the FF/Green response was that instead there will be a screening programme for cervical cancer. This line was successively pushed by FF, Green and independent TD’s including one who recently resigned from FF. Where have these TD’s been for the last year? Were there not a number of inquiries precisely because cancer screening has failed due to the lack of investment? In one case Mary Harney’s office had been contacted by a specialist in Port Laoise outlining his concern at his equipment. Would it not be more efficient to both screen those who are outside the age cohort that are best suited to the vaccine with up to date equipment and vaccinate all 12 year old girls? Why should we tolerate the inevitability of contracting a condition when it can be prevented.

The view that you take the cheap option wasn’t thankfully that of Barry Desmond when he sanctioned the MMR. We had a case in this country where the blood bank took the cheap option and haemophiliacs contracted AIDS as a result. FF of course have form in this area, calling an early general election 20 years ago rather than give money voted by the Dail to the same haemophiliacs organisation. At the back of it all is the reality that someone like me who can stick their hand in their pocket can protect their daughters while those that cannot will never be sure that their daughter’s can be safe.

When Noel Browne discussed his Mother & Child scheme with the hierarchy they grudgingly accepted that the “necessitous poor” could be protected. The new right in FF & the Greens don’t even concede this. Dr James Deeny, Browne’s Departmental Secretary, wrote about his experience in the Department of Health in “To Cure is to Care”. Fundamental to his approach was a view that no woman should be at the mercy of extreme poverty and lack of care. He concluded that when people talk about closing beds and hospitals what they are really talking about is ending services that sick people need. One wonders how long more Minister Harney has to serve but it’s certain that in years to come we won’t be reflecting on her time as a golden era where services flourished.

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