FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Proceed with caution
Government and non-governmental organizations must be commended on their continuing efforts with cancer education, tobacco control and early detection of cancers. In addition, treatment by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s well run radiotherapy department is excellent.
Let’s hope the breakthroughs in various cancers, multidisciplinary approaches to treatment and advances in screening methods and radiation therapy discussed at the recent Building Bridges To Conquer Cancer meeting will further advance these efforts.
Over the years, Government set up an award-winning immunization programme for pre-school children. That having been said, I’m really apprehensive about Government’s recently announced plan to offer vaccination of pre-teen girls against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There’s ongoing discussion on the pros and cons and I agree with Minister of Health John Boyce that national debate should continue since, as he is quoted, “side effects from vaccines are always likely, despite favourable medical reviews on the one to be administered to counteract the prevalence of cervical cancer caused by HPV”. Even the snail in the last Weekend Nation declared: “Wha’ needling me is the side effects”.
While I’m not condemning efforts to improve the health of Barbadians, we should think carefully before jumping on developed countries’ bandwagons. While polio and smallpox vaccines have done wonders worldwide, apparently eliminating these diseases in the Western Hemisphere, serious problems have resulted from a number of medications which were supposed to be wonder treatments but instead have wreaked havoc. Just think of all those “thalidomide babies” born with malformed limbs in the 1960s. “The thalidomide disaster is said to
be one of the darkest episodes in pharmaceutical research history . . . . Before then, every new drug was seen as beneficial (www.sciencemuseum. uk.org).” Thalidomide has apparently shown promise in treating AIDS and leprosy and is being investigated as a treatment for some types of cancer. Will we see another upsurge of problems down the road? Only time will tell.
My concern about widespread administering of HPV vaccine is triggered by the fact that the medical fraternity as well as nutritionists seem to keep changing their minds about what is good for you and what isn’t. After you’ve filled your system with a particular food or FDA-approved drug, you suddenly hear it’s killing you and what was once said to be killing you is now apparently curing you. Similarly, the thinking on widely promoted PSA tests for prostate cancer seems to be currently changing. Not forgetting, of course, the constant rumours of links between researchers and pharmaceutical companies which stand to benefit substantially from drug sales, making one wonder if you ever hear the whole truth. We also have to be careful about the source of drugs in light of the horror story I recently heard of lack of regulation of drug manufacturers in some countries.
HPV, like HIV or AIDS, is sexually transmitted. Just as some accept homosexual activity in prison and recommend condoms to counteract it, should we be saying to young children: “We know you’re going to be involved in sexual activities, so let’s vaccinate you against the possible negative consequnces”? Or should we all (parents, teachers, church leaders and society in general) be working untiringly at inculcating a sense of responsibility in children from an early age as well as educating them about the consequences of irresponsibility in life? Of course, this isn’t easy when many parents themselves are irresponsible, as is evidenced by the fact that the few parents who promote abstinence in their children are ridiculed by their peers who say “go with the flow – just give them condoms or put contraceptives in their juice”.
The medical doctors may not agree, but there are claims that the chicken pox vaccine which was fairly recently introduced in Barbados can have side effects such as speech delay. As children, we had chicken pox, measles and mumps, usually with no lasting effects, although, of course, those who had chicken pox sometimes contract shingles later in life. Stress apparently contributes to shingles. Perhaps we should try to avoid stress. Just read Lowdown’s regular advice. Live simply, focus less on material things and “keeping up with the Joneses”, eat natural local foods (and improve the health of our foreign reserves) and be happy. Nowadays, though, we may have to add: avoid listening to the news!
The following paragraph of last week’s column was inadvertently omitted: “On the bright side, it was a pleasure, as usual, to watch our Independence Parade. The discipline and skill demonstrated by both the unarmed and armed units of the uniformed organisations, if exhibited in all areas of activity, would certainly help to turn around Barbados’ fortunes. It’s encouraging to see that the Landship, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides are still alive and well. Hopefully our youth will continue to join in these healthy character-building activities. The Landship’s Maypole dance demonstrates the teamwork which we need at this time in our history. But can you imagine the chaos that would’ve taken place at the Garrison if we had not had a leader of the parade to organize and control the formations of the units? Herein lies our problem. The Prime Minister needs to “take the bull by the horns” and lead us back to stability.