Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bowel cancer patients waiting on Kevin Rudd

How about some "stimulus" for those who really need it, Kevvy?

MORE than 350 bowel cancer patients a month are dying as they wait for Kevin Rudd to approve a subsidy for a $55,000 drug that may extend their life. Eight months ago the Federal Government's expert medicines advisory body approved a subsidy for the cancer drug Avastin, which costs $55,000 a year. The decision should have cut the cost of this medicine to just $32.90 for general patients and $5.30 for pensioners. But before the subsidies can be paid Cabinet must rubber stamp the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee ruling because the subsidy for the drug will cost taxpayers more than $10 million a year.

In the eight months since the drug was approved for subsidy 1600 patients who could have had their lives extended for five months by the drug have missed out. Just 305 patients have been able to afford the $20,000 they need to go on to a special scheme in which Roche, the drug's manufacturer, helps patients with the cost of the drug.

Retired teacher Jan Plummer, who was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in March 2007, has taken Avastin for two years. And she is urging Cabinet to act quickly to subsidise the drug. "I can imagine how many people who are waiting to go on this drug and can't afford it," she said. She says she was able to use it because her health fund, NSW Teachers Federation, is one of only a few which help pay the cost. "God help those who don't have health cover or whose funds don't pay," she said.

She says she's been able to travel, swim, run and use a personal fitness trainer while using the drug that has to be delivered intravenously every two weeks. The only side effect has been high blood pressure that's treated with tablets.

It's not the first time Cabinet has delayed subsidies helping sick people. In March last year The Daily Telegraph revealed three costly treatments for Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and renal disease were delayed. A spokesman for Health Minister Nicola Roxon said yesterday he could not comment on when Cabinet might consider the drug. Roche said price negotiations were settled in August last year.

Bowel cancer, the nation's most common with more than 12,500 new cases emerging every year, is the second biggest cancer killer, after lung cancer, with 4500 people dying from the disease each year.



Three current articles below

Queensland weather pattern returns to 1970s

Weather bureau boss says 20 more years of data needed to draw conclusions about climate change. Note: Queensland is roughly twice the size of California

WEATHER patterns have returned to those of the 1970s - the past two summers had featured a good monsoon season and a couple of cyclones. Weather bureau boss Jim Davidson said despite the "normality" of the past two seasons, three unusual events had dominated Queensland's weather this summer. They were the flooding in northwest Queensland and the Gulf of Carpentaria, north Queensland's Ingham being hit with two major back-to-back floods and Cyclone Hamish at one stage hitting category 5 - the strongest possible. Last year major floods also hit central Queensland, in places such as Charleville, Longreach, Mackay and Rockhampton.

Mr Davidson said the past two summers showed the extreme weather patterns that a state as large as Queensland could experience. He had warned in October that coastal residents should prepare for a summer cyclone and flood season, with monsoon activity expected to be above normal. Mr Davidson said the season was dominated by a rain-bringing La Nina weather pattern as opposed to the El Nino conditions that had occurred through much of the decade-long drought. As well, the north had been boosted by an active monsoon. The three cyclones - Hamish, Ellie and Charlotte - were an average number for a season, although more cyclones could continue to form until about mid-April.

Mr Davidson said it was unusual that Hamish was the fourth category 5 cyclone to form in the past five years, but it was "too early" to put that down to climate change. "There's no obvious explanation for this happening," he said. "They are hard to predict, not easily explained and it's far too early to put this down to climate change. "It will take at least 20 years of scientific and statistical observations before we can make that sort of call. "We have very cyclical weather patterns."

While a huge slab of north, east and western Queensland has been swamped by the best wet season in years, the Murray Darling Basin on the NSW border is so dry entire rivers have stopped flowing. Little water has made it into the basin, about 260,000 sq km of which is in Queensland. University of NSW wetlands researcher Richard Kingsford has labelled conditions a disaster. Mr Davidson said the situation in the Murray Darling showed there was rarely a time in a state as large as Queensland that there was not some place in drought.


Climate change - it's part of natural cycle

A carbon tax is unnecessary and will ruin the Australian economy, a leading academic has warned. With an arm-long list of achievements, Adelaide University geology Professor Ian Plimer told the PGA Convention that there were fundamental problems in the science being put forward in favour of climate change. "An emission trading scheme is based on flawed science and its constraints will destroy the agricultural industry," Prof Plimer said.

"And the interesting thing about ruminants, which is a main argument for climate change, is that there are more of them on earth now than there were 20 years ago, however the methane deposit is going down; so how do we explain that?

"I think the agriculture sector can suffer very badly from emissions trading and the mining and manufacturing industry will also suffer but the reality is those people living in Sydney and Melbourne are driving the political agenda. "The problem is that (people in) the bulk of the electorates live in cities, never experience drought, they always get fresh food, they don't realise that drought is part of living in Australia. Unfortunately the agricultural vote is the same vote as a drongo living in the city who is doing nothing to expand the economy.

"We are a country with first world thinking and third world infrastructure, we cannot afford to make make a mistake on this. "The science is flawed; and if the science is flawed then the whole concept of emissions trading is invalid." Prof Plimer said climates always change, always have and always will. "Climates change in cycles and will change randomly," he said.

"Where those cycles change are based on where that solar system is in the galaxy, how our orbit wobbles, how energetic the sun is, tidal effects and extraordinary events such as massive volcano eruptions." "What you don't see is any evidence in the past, and that is only 4567 million years, that carbon dioxide has driven climate change. "It is the exact inverse."


Scientists cast doubt on deal to tackle global warming

Two leading [British] climate scientists have broken ranks with their peers to declare that hopes of getting a meaningful deal on halting global warming this year are already lost. Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and Professor Trevor Davies, one of the centre's founders, said it was time to start looking for alternatives to an international deal.

They made their comments on the eve of a three-day conference in Copenhagen this week in which thousands of climate change researchers will meet to discuss the latest discoveries in the field. The findings will be used in December when world leaders attend a UN summit, also in Copenhagen, to try to work out an international treaty on greenhouse gas emissions.

Professor Anderson and Professor Davies expect politicians at the summit merely to pay lip service to scientific evidence that greenhouse gas emissions need to be brought under control within a decade, if not sooner. They said that rather than wait for an international accord it was time now to consider what action could be taken. "We all hope that Copenhagen will succeed but I think it will fail. We won't come up with a global agreement," Professor Anderson said. "I think we will negotiate, there will be a few fudges and there will be a very weak daughter of Kyoto. I doubt it will be significantly based on the science of climate change." He is certain that negotiators will place a heavy reliance on technological solutions that have yet to be invented or proven, rather than recognise the scale and urgency of the problem.

Their comments came as Climate Change Minister Penny Wong prepared to release legislation to establish Australia's Climate Pollution Reduction Scheme tomorrow. Greens leader Bob Brown insists the Government cannot water down its commitment to emissions cuts because of the global financial crisis. "We don't accept for one moment the quisling attitude that this economic downturn means that climate change should be put on the shelf," he said "That is very dangerous and irresponsible thinking."

Professor Anderson believes that the severity of the likely impacts of climate change has been underplayed, and that to doubt that temperature rises could be limited to 2C is a political heresy. He said that scientists had been held back from voicing their doubts. "The consequences of the numbers we come up with are politically unacceptable. It's difficult for people to stand up. To rock the boat significantly is difficult for them."

Professor Davies, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia (UEA), where the Tyndall Centre is based, shares this assessment and regards geoengineering schemes as a potential insurance policy. The GeoEngineering Assessment and Research initiative (Gear) has now been set up at UEA to assess the projects that have been suggested. Among the geoengineering solutions that have been proposed are putting mirrors into orbit to reflect sunlight away from Earth, and encouraging the growth of plankton by pouring nutrients into the oceans. "An increasing number of scientists are talking about Plan B now, the big, global geoengineering things," Professor Davies said. "That's one of the reasons we've set up this centre - not that we think many of the aspects are sensible but because we think it's necessary to assess them."


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