Let the patient beware

Vaccines are one of modern medicine’s greatest achievements.

IF a doctor gives you incorrect medical advice that leads to your death, you’re unlikely to be happy. You’d probably want to come back from the afterlife to haunt the perpetrator, and your loved ones would rightfully want to see the doctor punished for his incompetence by being struck off the medical register or perhaps by being sued.

However, the same level of vehemence is rarely seen when patients suffer or die as a result of advice given by proponents of ‘alternative therapies’. This would include homeopaths, anti-vaccers and the seemingly ubiquitous spiritual therapists.

The anti-vaccers should be delighted with the current measles epidemic that is spreading across Europe. Of the more than 2,500 cases of measles in France reported over the past few months, 88 per cent were under or unvaccinated and a fifth required hospitalisation. To date, more than two dozen deaths have been reported from the epidemic — deaths which were preventable. But will any anti-vaccine proponent be found accountable? Of course not.

Before we get up on our high horse, it is worth noting that for the months September 2017 to February 2018, Malaysia was the country with the tenth highest rates of measles in the world. The main reason for this is the low level of measles–mumps– rubella (MMR) vaccination. The rate of MMR immunisation for 2017 dropped to 92 per cent, which is lower than the 95 per cent required to provide herd immunity.

Herd immunity is the concept that with sufficient vaccination against a bacteria or virus, the disease will be unable to spread through a community due to the low numbers of susceptible individuals. This is particularly important to protect those who cannot be vaccinated such as children who are too young, those who have weak immune systems or those who are too unwell to be vaccinated (e.g. patients with cancer). In other words, by taking the vaccine, you not only protect your loved ones, but other members of society too.

The MMR vaccine came into disrepute following the publication of a paper by an idiot called Andrew Wakefield who essentially lied about the link between MMR vaccines and autism in order to promote an alternative vaccine that he had a vested interest in.

I use the word “idiot” because it’s the least insulting adjective I can think of. This man is responsible for the rise of the anti-MMR movement that has led to millions of dollars wasted on unnecessary studies that had to be done to prove the non-existence of a link between vaccines and autism, as well as the deaths of children whose parents have been misled by disinformation.

Across the globe, governments struggle to help patients process the avalanche of medical information that is readily available. In the wake of the government’s decision to dismantle the Malaysian Health Promotion Board (MySihat), it is imperative that a strategy to improve healthcare literacy in Malaysia be put into motion.

These would be not only to promote healthy attitudes and behaviour alongside creating awareness of diseases, but to counter incorrect and misleading sources of information. The latter is especially true on social media platforms and while it is reassuring to note that initiatives such as #medtweetmy and ‘Public Health Malaysia’ are actively combating lies it would be far better if these were formalised into a statutory body with a remit to educate the public.

Governments across the world are aware of the importance of vaccines for the population. In the United States, children will only be allowed into school if they have received pre-specified vaccines. In Australia, parents who do not vaccinate their children will lose part of their biweekly support payments.

Vaccines are one of modern medicine’s greatest achievements and have been responsible for the elimination of smallpox as well as limiting the damage done by many other microorganisms. It would be a shame if such progress was reversed due to fake news/lies.

By DR HELMY HAJA MYDIN.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/08/398804/let-patient-beware

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