Petition Sends Strong Message
The message should be loud and clear. Nova Scotians believe that people suffering from Environmental Illness deserve broader treatment options. The NSAEHA treatment committee recently presented results of a petition campaign to Premier John Hamm calling for the establishment of a full-time treatment-focused clinic for environmental illness based on the protocols and procedures accepted in the field of environmental medicine. Over 3000 signatures were collected throughout the province, and even more individuals sent postcards directly to the Premier supporting these goals.
In the '90s, the PCs promised to establish such a treatment-focused clinic, which would also conduct education and research. The part-time treatment clinic at the VG hospital in the early '90s followed these procedures and had an amazing 97% satisfaction rate. But critics of environmental medicine managed to convince the government of the day that there was not enough research (is there ever, on any medical issue?) so the full-time treatment clinic promise was traded for a research mandate administered through Dalhousie Medical School.
The treatment committee continues to receive calls and mail from sick Nova Scotians who desperately need treatment programs conducted by trained environmental medicine physicians. One caller, typical of many, commented, "The stress comes AFTER we get sick! People lose everything! Jobs, husbands, homes, children, everything and find themselves living on $400.00 a month. Measure that on the life stressor scale!"
The NSAEHA agrees that more research is needed in this field, as is common with other diseases, but not at the expense of treating sick Nova Scotians with the best available treatment. We also recognize the value of psychological support.
Environmental Medicine Courses Get Top Marks
Meanwhile, courses in environmental medicine run by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) recently received a glowing report from the Continuing Medical Education (CME) certification board which includes the American Medical Association and other major health organizations. The courses were recertified for 4 years, the maximum renewal time. This is a strong vote of confidence and should put to rest criticisms that the AAEM courses and treatment protocols are somehow suspect.
A well respected Canadian physician and researcher who, given the climate of attacks on enviromental medicine, prefered to remain anonymous, told the Treatment Committee: "In the '80s I took the AAEM courses in Ontario. They were excellent. Doctors in Ontario became very receptive to environmental medicine around that time, but suddenly it was as if someone had their toes stepped on. Accreditation for the courses was denied, and at a conference of family physicians there was a lot of bad mouthing of environmental medicine. It was never clear why. Instead of openness, patients and the doctors who were treating them were stigmatized." She continued, "Doctors have to be given permission by their leaders to learn again. Recently the AAEM courses got another glowing evaluation by the CME board. They even got two commendations. Sooner or later, people will have to learn that nothing is gained by discrediting the exploration of innovative medical thought."
External Review of the Research Centre
Meanwhile, the NS Minister of Health has announced an external review of the NS Environmental Health Centre (NSEHC). A resolution passed in the Legislature in May 1998 called for an external review of the Centre, but the terms of the review as unanimously adopted in 1998 have been drastically changed. Resolution 115, which the NSAEHA supported, called for an external review of the NSEHC by international experts in environmental medicine. At a recent meeting with the Minister of Health, NSAEHA Board members were told that this review is not intended to fulfill Resolution 115. Rather, it is meant to fulfill one of the party's election platform promises.
"Once more, government has shown a lack of interest in the concerns of informed patients, even with a unanimous resolution supporting them," said Treatment Committee chair Karen Robinson. "The review as constituted seems to be yet another forum for doubters like the Langley Report authors and the chemical industry to question environmental illness itself." The review panel is composed of three Canadian doctors, none of whom is a recognized expert in the field of environmental medicine and one of whom is a well known proponent of the "psychogenic origins" theory of EI/MCS.
Dr. Gerald Ross, a Nova Scotia native, and past director of the part-time environmental medicine clinic retains his interest in the welfare of environmentally ill Nova Scotians although he does not intend to return to practice medicine here. When contacted about the proposed review, Dr. Ross commented "The designated reviewers of the NSEHC have no appreciable training or experience in environmental medicine. This situation is like having your brain surgery done by a psychiatrist."
Ross was also dismayed by the terms of reference for the review, which ask whether the NSEHC is following international guidelines and accepted practices for research into the diagnosis and treatment of "environmental intolerance of uncertain etiology."
"The use of the expression 'environmental intolerance of uncertain etiology' is very revealing," said Dr. Ross. "This expression is simply another way of saying "Idiopathic (ie -of unknown origin) Environmental Intolerance" or IEI. IEI is a term used almost exclusively by defenders of the chemical industry and critics of environmental medicine. Those who use this term almost always contend that chemical sensitivity either does not exist or is psychological in origin. This is yet another sad day for people in Nova Scotia with chemical sensitivities."
Work to gain treatment for EI/MCS is running up against some big opponents. "Be prepared to hear more accusations that environmental illnesses are primarily psychological," said Robinson. "International, professional lobbyists and spokespersons from the chemical and perfume industries have been active in NS, challenging the notion that EI/MCS has physical causes or that these products have any negative health effects. Our progress in reducing perfume sales and pesticide use does not please them. As difficult as it is to be the target of these attacks, this opposition from industry is a clear sign that our work is making an impact."