Thursday, 5 March 2009

I need to form an opinion. Can anyone help?

Posted by Dr. Thunder.

There's controversy brewing in Ireland. Like many countries, it was decided a while ago to introduce a programme of vaccinations for Irish girls, to help protect against cervical cancer. As most of you will know, there's a jab available that has been shown to be very effective in protecting against the viruses that cause most cases of this disease.

This would be given for free to girls in their early teens.

All was well, and public health/preventative health was back on the agenda.

But then the tough times came along. A load of bankers loaned a load of cash to people with no money, and we were all snookered.
So, as is historically the way of the politician, money was taken away from the population health strategy. They must have already syphoned off  their quota from mental health services for the year.

The long and short of all this is that Irish girls were told they wouldn't be getting the vaccine. Well, they wouldn't be getting it for free. So, the rich would still get it.

But the type of people who are really at risk of cervical cancer would be less likely to be able to afford it.

There was a big fuss about this initially. But, like most public health initiatives, the fallout from the funding cut was short lived.

However, now a group of doctors have announced that they will be administering the vaccine for free to 300 12-year old girls in Dublin this week. Local businessmen have paid for the vaccine itself, and the doctors won't be charging for their time. 

Word on the street is that the administration of the vaccine would have been outsourced to China if the GPs had asked for payment.

This all looks very noble. Fair play to the local businessmen, and fair play to the GPs.

But is it that simple? Possibly not. One of the GPs is a member of the Irish opposition. Dr James Reilly is not just a member of the Fine Gael political party, but he's their health spokesman.

He claims this isn't a political stunt. But in the same breath he says: 

"The fact that the local community, 19 schools, parents associations, teachers, parents, doctors, nurses, and 300 children have indicated their demand for this vaccine should send a loud message to the Minister and this Government and the Minister should take up the baton and continue this programme throughout the country,".

My dilemma lies herein. On the surface, I like this idea. Private business funds overseas aid all the time, so why not give something to Irish people who may not have been able to afford this vaccine.

On the other hand, I'm uneasy because:

A) A politician, and a doctor, seem to be using their patients to make a political point.

B) Let's face it, we are seeing these vaccines being given out because this is a popular cause. It has, and will continue to, attract media attention. Do 12 year old girls need a cervical vaccine right now?? probably not. Could it wait a year or 2 until the country is financially more stable? Yes.
Could we use more counselling/psychotherapy services for the mentally ill? Absoloutely. Would this attract a lot of media attention? Absoloutely not.

Like I said, I'm a fan of this idea on a superficial level. But I also have deep misgivings about it in the context of an overall health startegy.

So, I have decided that, for once in my life, I don't have an opinion that's set in stone. Yet.

Can anyone help me out?

The full story is available at:

Dr. Thunder

1 comment:

  1. Excellent points you make.

    I've felt all along that the postponement of the cervical cancer vaccine while an unpopular decision, was the correct one in the present economic climate. When money is tight, we have to prioritise the essentials and this vaccine could not be considered essential.

    When I heard about the scheme to administer the vaccine to 300 girls in north Dublin, I was happy to think that people had taken the situation into their own hands. Then I heard that James Reilly was involved and it left me feeling that the motives behind this campaign, are decidedly ambiguous.