Abandoning men’s health

Of all the Rudd/Gillard broken promises, the cruellest was their undertaking that the Labor government would give cabinet approval within six months of any new drug recommended to it by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee. Its not as though cabinet has to discuss the medical or scientific aspects of new life-saving or distress-relieving pharmaceuticals. No! All cabinet has to do is rubber-stamp the PBA Committee’s approval so the drug can be made available to those who urgently need it. 

Casual observers of the body politic will remember the passion and money justly devoted to women’s health issues such as breast cancer and cervical cancer. The publicity and resulting campaign to provide Professor Ian Frazer’s cervical cancer vaccine was extraordinary. He became Australian of the Year and his vaccine became immediately available with big government-run campaigns and free immunisation. Indeed there is even a free Cervical Cancer Vaccine Reminder Service that sends women and girls an SMS reminder message with the date of their next vaccine appointment. 

Now government agencies are looking at a request to give the cervical cancer vaccine to 12 and 13 year-old schoolboys, via a government-funded scheme, as a “universal gender neutral program”. Yes there is such a thing. The idea is to stop promiscuous boys passing on the papilloma virus (HPV). Apparently the idea is to achieve a thing called … “herd immunity”. 

But when it comes to men’s health where does the Labor government stand? 

According to the Prostate Cancer Council of Australia “close to 3,300 men die of prostate cancer — equal to the number of women who die from breast cancer annually”. Around 20,000 cases are diagnosed in this country each year. 

A far greater number though are diagnosed with an “enlarged prostate” which can be a precursor to prostate cancer. The enlarged prostate is usually indicated by a high PSA reading — Prostate Specific Antigen — detected through a blood test. With about 400,000 Australian men with non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate you would imagine that the Labor government would be anxious to assist men with this serious health problem. 

The symptoms of an enlarged prostate are problems in urinating — mainly at night with sufferers having to get up many times during the night, irregular flow, pain during urination and general problems with the male urination system — their plumbing! Disturbed sleep by the sufferer, and their partner, also can affect health. 

For the past 12 months the Labor cabinet has been sitting on a Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee’s decision to release a drug called Avodart which could help reduce the size of the prostate in the 400,000 Australian men suffering from the complaint. 

In an article in The Australian last week (November 12) journalist Sue Dunlevy wrote: 

The extended wait appears to have placed the Gillard government in breach of its promise that cabinet approval of drug subsidies would take no longer than six months. 

And it raises the questions about whether the government is delaying the approvals to save money as it strives to get its budget under control. 

If the above is true, and the three women ministers who control when this cabinet decision will be discussed — Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Health Minister Nicola Roxon and Finance Minister Penny Wong — the question arises as to whether the Gillard cabinet takes the issue of men’s health at all seriously. Would they be delaying a PBAC approval for 12 months, with no indication as to when it will be approved, if it involved women’s health? 

When you have possibly 400,000 men having interrupted sleep by having to get up two or three times a night to urinate — that’s nearly 1,000,000 unnecessary functions across Australia, each night. Or 7,000,000 a week taken to an extreme, the delay in passing a simple cabinet-minute has possible caused 2,555,000,000 unnecessary functions and 146,000,000 sleepless nights — all because a cabinet-minute remains in cabinet-limbo. 

As prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian men and is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in men, you would think that the Australian Labor government would show some compassion and concern. As a lump in a women’s breast is an alarm-bell, so is an enlarged prostate for men. The Gillard cabinet’s “impotence” is immoral. 

Another drug that cabinet has had before it since September last year is Vidaza, a medication that can double the life expectancy of sufferers of myeloid leukaemia. According the Sue Dunlevy article, the frustration in the delays are annoying the Leukaemia Foundation. Their spokeswoman, Anna Williamson, says that she can’t even get Ms Roxon’s office to tell her when cabinet might rubber-stamp the approval. 

It isn’t as though Labor hasn’t a laissez-faire track-record when it comes to rubber-stamping PBAC recommendations for new drugs. On March 27, 2008, The Daily Telegraph ran a story critical of Kevin Rudd leaving on a 17- day overseas jaunt without placing urgently needed PBAC drug approvals before cabinet for rubber-stamping. The drugs were needed for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and renal disease. At the time, opposition health spokesman, Joe Hockey, described the delay as cruel. “Many people are living in hope of these drugs providing them relief,” he said. 

You can imaging the outcry from feminist groups if women’s health was treated in the way men’s health is being treated in regards to the prostate drug Avodart. The sisterhood would be beside themselves. 

In a speech, delivered to Lifeline on September 24 this year — and available on the ALP News Site — Prime Minister Julia Gillard said, “And I can assure you that issues associated with men’s health will be regularly drawn to my attention because my partner, Tim, intends to continue his advocacy work on men’s health issues.” 

Well Tim, here’s you big chance.

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