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We need politicians with vision

One of the things that bothers me about the current Australian government is lack of vision, lack of the ability to think outside the square or to challenge the status quo.

I’m going to illustrate with an example built around our health system (on which I have written voluminously lately), the horrific domestic violence record in this country, auto-immune conditions and food.

A little background to set the scene. As you may know I am learning the ropes of living with a chronic illness. Trust me, it isn’t as easy or simple as seeing a specialist who gives you a prescription and reviews you once a year. Partly as a result of my own personal experience, I got involved in the Medicare changes debate, while also following research about food and chronic illness. I watch as the Minister for Women remains silent on the continuing violence against women in this country and noticed the financial cost of family violence to the nation.

I see links between all of these, yet I don’t see our politicians acknowledging any connections at all, much less driving any investigations or research. They are much too busy restricting our freedoms, completely contradicting their pre-election stance on the question of individual freedoms.

As a starting point, let’s look at one of the findings from my Medicare analysis. Readers may remember this graph from an earlier article.

PopulationServices

This graph compares the number of primary care medical services to the population by gender and by age bracket. What is this telling us? It is telling us women between the ages of twenty-five and seventy-four are the highest users of our primary care medical services. To read about this in the broader context of our health system costs, read Medicare is not the problem. For now, I am only interested in the disproportionate need for medical services of the adult female population and what factors may be driving this. If we could reduce this demand, we’d not only have healthy women, we’d save tax dollars. We can take into account prescriptions for the contraceptive pill as being gender specific, but that is not twelve visits a year. Not all women attend an obstetrician for pregnancy and child-birth, so we can allow a few visits from some women for obstetrics reasons as well. Neither of those gender specific medical needs explain the graph. Edit: After publication I was reminded by a doctor of the reluctance of men to seek medical help as pro-actively as they should, which contributes to the gender differences above. This is a factor that should be considered when considering introducing value signals financial barriers to early detection.

Family violence is estimated to cost Australia $16.2 billion. If domestic violence was eradicated from the community, the health costs for women would drop accordingly. Not all of the $16.2 billion are health costs, but they are costs that are considered to flow from domestic violence crimes. If we eradicate domestic violence, not only do we save lives and families, we have $16.2 billion to put towards unavoidable health costs. We also reduce the demand for health service resources, allowing deployment to alternative health areas.

Violence is more damaging to the health of Victorian women aged 15–44 years than any other well-known risk factors, including high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.

Source: VicHealth

At least one of my medical conditions is an auto-immune condition. There is considerable research being undertaken into the increase in incidence of auto-immune diseases. Many of the auto-immune diseases affect predominantly women: seven out of eight suffers of systemic lupus, for example, are women. Auto-immune diseases are one of the top ten causes of death of females aged up to sixty-four.

Sexratio
We have increasing incidence plus a predominance of women: the graph above starts to look more realistic now, doesn’t it? Many of the auto-immune conditions can take some time to diagnose, requiring more visits. As our testing technology improves, so we are able to diagnose some conditions more promptly than in years gone by, but that doesn’t apply to all conditions. For some conditions there are no simple or single positive or negative tests and diagnosis can take time. Even once diagnosed, establishing the correct treatment regime can take quite a while. I’ve been to both my GP and my rheumatologist so far this week, dosages and drugs will be tweaked in another three weeks. It isn’t a perfect science.

We need to be investing in research to find out why the incidence of auto-immune conditions is increasing. That will have long term benefits: improved health and reduced health care costs. There may be no solution to the gender bias, but if we understand the gender connection, we may be able to manage it.

One possible cause of the increase is the food we eat, which I looked at in some detail yesterday in The dose makes the poison. There is work currently being done looking at the relationship between gut bacteria and rheumatoid arthritis. That article also talks about a possible link between asthma and bacteria.

Some research indicates that the bacteria may reduce the risk of asthma, perhaps by curtailing the body’s immune response to airborne stimuli. Blaser suspects that asthma is one of the illnesses affected by our changing microbiome: Rates in the U.S. have been climbing for three decades, and grew by more than 28 percent between 2001 and 2011.

Restaurant Dessert Tray

Restaurant Dessert Tray

Yet we happily continue to ingest food that has been processed and modified to excess. I was actually surprised at the low interest shown in yesterday’s article. Do we not want to face the fact we could be poisoning ourselves, or effectively altering our bodies’ natural functions? Is this too confronting in our fast-paced world where flying through the supermarket to grab a TV dinner is the only way we can find time to hit the gym?

The oft-cited reasoning around additives that are KNOWN to be toxic is something along the lines of “in small does it is OK”. Perhaps we could make that “ALONE in small doses”. The levels of toxicity we are exposed to in 2015 in just getting from home to work is nothing like it was in 1815. Way, way higher. A little bit of toxicity in your drink, a little more in your pre-packaged pudding and what is in your toothpaste and nail polish that is being absorbed by your body? What are the possible long term effects on the human body of  an accumulation of these approved small doses of toxicity in combination with each other and/or external toxins we are exposed to daily such as carbon monoxide? Or even just some human bodies if some of us are immune (or just tougher).

I’ve written before about the relationship between stress and AI conditions. Perhaps we are reducing our body’s ability to deal with stress effectively. The possibilities are endless.

80% of auto-immune condition sufferers can describe a major stressful event in their lives prior to the onset of the condition. While a causal link is yet to be established, it is definitely worth the research being undertaken. Maybe our food reduces our body’s ability to process stress (perhaps in conjunction with our social constraints) or these toxins directly change our immune systems in some way.

These are only the few correlations I have considered over the last month. There are many more. What I don’t see is a government with vision, a government looking to enable investigation of these correlations. I see a government who doesn’t appoint a Science Minister, a government that guts our CSIRO and is now attempting to make changes to our universal health system that are neither sensible nor substantiated.  A government who is looking in the wrong place for dollars and a Minister for Women who ignores the domestic violence epidemic.

Our politicians need to open their eyes. For all our sakes. We, the voting public, need to support our scientists and medical researchers to get the message across. Don’t leave it to the experts to battle on alone: it is YOUR body!

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit http://www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000

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5 comments on “We need politicians with vision

  1. […] Back at Monash University in the 1980’s there was a Women’s Room, but no Men’s Room. In my naivety at the time, I refused to use the Women’s Room as I felt there should be one for men too. I didn’t realise back then the treatment some women were subjected to venturing into the corridors of male dominated higher education. Now more women graduate university than men – but women still earn less. We needed some positive discrimination to redress the wrongs of millenia. Even so, I think there could be much to be gained from an International Men’s Day, provided we leave the military “boys toys” out of it and concentrate on meaningful enhancements to men’s lives. Better work-life balance, health, relationships. Men could use such an event to educate other men about preventing family violence. […]

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  2. […] Oyeniyi of Team Oyeniyi writes about needing politicians with vision, who will actually do the research needed to inform policy stances on things like domestic […]

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  3. Another well thought out & researched article Robyn.
    It really amazes me at the moment with this short sighted government. They are defunding one of the most important scientific institutions CSIRO, not biting the bullet when it comes to food labelling & where certain foods come from. Then, of course, the PM’s portfolio as Minister for Women (just don’t get me started on Abbott).
    I think its about time that people started to realize that taxation is really what is needed to keep funding all of the social welfare aspects as well as infrastructures that is required to keep this country & its people safe & happy way into the future.
    To do this, someone (the ALP/Greens) should take the time to work out how much taxation is required & who should be shouldering their fair share of it, then explain to the general public the why & what that taxation will be covering.
    This would be a big step in the right direction especially if people fully understand how this will help keep the citizens of this country safe & well.
    I doubt if people would object too much if they fully understand where and what their tax dollars are being spent on as long as it is to the benefit of the people in general.
    Over to you folks, what do you think?

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    • Sandra, the only problem is we are already a very highly taxed country. The top marginal tax rate is nothing to be sneezed at. However, a high top marginal rate isn’t worth much if no-one pays it because they can arrange their tax affairs “effectively” shall we say!

      The whole tax system needs a rethink.

      I don’t want to see us turn into the USA, where people need two and three jobs to survive or receive more in tips than wage.

      There is a balance somewhere between profit and production costs and wages and housing and welfare and education and health. Why are we struggling so much to find that balance?

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