Wakefield’s Shameful Legacy

A new study, ironically published in The Lancet, raises serious doubts that the goal of elimination of measles in Europe by 2010 can be attained. The reason for this re-emergence of a disease which was completely under control 15 years ago is the “shoddy, litigation- and profit-driven pseudoscience” of Andrew Wakefield, whose now discredited study published in The Lancet in 1998, linked the MMR vaccine with autism in children.


Measles virus: small, but nasty

It later emerged that Wakefield was paid up to £55,000 by solicitors acting on behalf of the families of some autistic children to prove a link between the vaccine and the condition. This was something that he somehow forgot to mention to his fellow authors, medical authorities or The Lancet.

Simon Murch, one of the leading doctors involved with Wakefield’s research at the Royal Free, said that news of the £55,000 legal funding was “a very unpleasant surprise”.
“We never knew anything about the £55,000 — he had his own separate research fund,” said Murch. “All of us were surprised… We are pretty angry.”

10 years on and Wakefield’s scaremongering has resulted in a 13-year high in the number of measles cases in the UK: an “embarrassing problem” according to the WHO report’s authors. Vaccination levels have improved somewhat over the past 2 years, with concerted “catch-up” campigns for those who missed vaccination, but even cases of measles in South America, which was all but free of the disease, have been traced back to Europe.

Between 2007-8 in Europe, there were over 12,000 cases of measles, which should have been erradicated from the continent by next year. Over 1,000 of them were in the UK:

1,049 is the highest number of measles cases recorded in England and Wales since the current method of monitoring the disease was introduced in 1995.
This rise is due to relatively low MMR vaccine uptake over the past decade and there are now a large number of children who are not fully vaccinated with MMR. This means that measles is spreading easily among unvaccinated children.

As a microbiologist and a parent, I strongly urge all parents to do the decent thing and vaccinate their children. These are not called “preventable diseases” for nothing. Apart from the benefits for you and your kids, there should be a collective sense of social responsibility to help reduce the reservoir of these illnesses in society.
The results of a decade of misinformation, poor science and hysterical reporting are becoming evident now: disease, disability and even death for hundreds of children, all of which could and should have been avoided.

Don’t let it happen to your kids.

Trolling for Keith…

Warning! This post contains language that some may consider offensive!

Way back in July, I wrote about my feelings upon the release of Batman: The Dark Knight.
I was sick to death (no pun intended) about the amount of hype surrounding the film, which would have been much lessened were it not for one of the actors, Keith Ledger, dying during filming.

Now, a mere five months on from those wet winter days, Matilda, connecting via Boston, Massachusetts, has finally popped onto the 6000 miles… site to post her annoyance at that particular article:

matilda
takethat2008@lycos.com
65.96.221.103

    Saw what you said about Heath Ledger, go FUCK YOURSELF!!!
 

Yes, that’s really the best response that she could come up with after just 158 late nights spent rooting through numerous dictionaries, thesauri and finally, 1001 Best Insults – The Complete Beginners Guide To Swearing.  Brilliant. And a gold star for the Boston Education Department. 

Well, the hype worked and the movie earned shedloads of cash, but Keith is still dead and 11 months on from his “accidental” overdose, Matilda still hasn’t come to terms with his passing. The CAPITALIZATION and excessive punctuation!!!!! at the end there just screams of the spleen ventage of a sad, lonely, woman who only has her 27 cats and a 56k modem for company. A woman who remains deep in denial and who takes a really long time to think up comments to write on blogs.

I look forward to hearing from Matilda again soon. Well, June-ish, anyway.

EDIT: Emil may have stumbled upon something here:

matilda seems very cross with you! Probably jealous about your phone!

Yes, Emil – thinking about it,  that was probably the final icing on the coffin which broke the camels back. Good point.

Sorry – my mistake

Readers visiting this blog last week may have been alarmed by my reporting of the situation in Zimbabwe – especially that relating to the outbreak of deadly infectious diseases there and the potentially disastrous consequences for that country. However, after hearing the news today, it seems that those remarks were hastily made and ill-informed.

President Robert Mugabe has said Zimbabwe has contained cholera.
In a nationally televised speech, he said: “I am happy to say our doctors are being assisted by others and the WHO [World Health Organization] have now arrested cholera.”
He went on to denounce former colonial power Britain, as well as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US President George W Bush, who both called earlier this week for the 84-year-old to resign: “Because of cholera, Mr Brown, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Bush want military intervention,” Mr Mugabe said.
He added: “Let’s tell them that the cholera cause doesn’t exist any more.” 

I would like to unconditionally apologise for any undue concern that was caused by people reading my blog and believing that our neighbours to the north were in any kind of trouble. I’m left asking myself how I could have got it so very wrong?
As Mr Mugabe has clearly stated, things are obviously completely under control up there and it all seems to have been a bit of a storm in a teacup.
I must add that they really have done a tremendous job in sorting it all out so very quickly and eradicating a disease which threatened literally tens of thousands of vulnerable people, all of whom must be celebrating this evening.
That must be some party.

Well done Mr Mugabe and a hearty pat on the back for you and your wonderful team.  And again – sorry.

Telegraph confusion

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, The Telegraph newspaper (more specifically, hack Francisca Kellett) has helpfully put together a list of the twenty most dangerous places on earth to visit. And there, right behind Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya and just missing out on a medal is our dear own South Africa, although, as Kellett admits, seemingly almost with an air of disappointment:

 …most visits to the country are trouble-free.

which doesn’t sound ever so dangerous, now does it?
South Africa beats some tough competition to finish so high up the list though, including the DRC, Sudan and world homocide leader, Columbia. Iran is apparently fine, while Somalia doesn’t even warrant a mention, so I assume it’s safe to go there too. I wouldn’t advise arriving by boat though.

Indeed, it seems that something of a dichotomy exists within the ranks of The Telegraph, since it was less than 6 months ago that they were giving away 90 tickets to travel to South Africa. And it was less than 6 days ago that Cape Town, in… er… South Africa won the award for Readers’ Favourite World City from… er… The Telegraph. Doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

Look further into the Telegraph’s extensive Travel section and you will find Jeremy Vine‘s verdict of Cape Town:

I realised it was the perfect place to be in the middle of the British winter: you leave a damp, grey Britain, and 12 hours later you’re in a sunny Cape Town. Fantastic!

Or Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ “Heaven on earth“:

I have an abiding love for the area – known as Cape Province when I was a boy – and I go back as often as possible. All in all, the Western Cape is just a fabulous part of the world and will always have a special place in my heart.

All of which makes Kellett’s rating of 4th most dangerous place on the planet seem slightly lonely, slightly foolish, slightly… well… bewildering, really.

I could stop there, but – hey, they don’t – so neither will I.

  • Novelist John Fullerton loves Cape Town for its laid-back atmosphere, beautiful setting and rich mix of cultures.
  • Douglas Rogers returns to South Africa’s Karoo to find it transformed into a hip new tourist destination.
  • Katie Derham: South Africa. You’ve got to go there. The beaches, the food, the vineyards, the animals.
  • When you’ve done the Big Five, hunt for mementos in Cape Town’s great craft shops, says Lisa Grainger.
  • Ant’s Nest, a private game reserve three hours north of Johannesburg, is the perfect place to stay with a child, writes Clover Stroud.

I’m not denying that SA has a crime problem – that would be simply foolish. However, I don’t think that it rates as being more dangerous for a tourist than, for example, Iran or Somalia. 

Francisca Kellett knows better, of course. Her winter break this year will be in safe and sunny Mogadishu.

Not blameless

The flyers for last night’s Cape Argus newspaper were still clinging to the streetlight poles in an act of abject defiance against the gusty south-easter as I crawled my way in to work this morning, decrying (amongst other stuff) another accident involving a city cyclist and a motor vehicle.
Once again, in this rather unfair duel between 1500 kilograms of car and 150 kilograms of bloke on bike, the latter seems to have come off rather badly. No surprises there.
The Argus has had a bit of a bee in its bonnet (as newspapers are wont to do) regarding these sort of incidents, which – once again – is no surprise since it is the co-sponsor of South Africa’s largest cycling event each year. This also explains their hugely one-sided approach to the whole issue. Because, let’s face it – cyclists are a menace anywhere in the world, but they have taken it to a whole new dimension on the streets of the Mother City – and most especially on the roads of the Cape Peninsular. I hesitate to use the word “tossers”, but only because it would upset my mum. (Be warned, Goblin’s mum doesn’t read her blog.)

Don’t get me wrong: I recognise that the deaths or injuries of these people is terrible. But simply blaming the car drivers completely misses the point. Cyclists are anything but blameless. No licences, no registration, no lights, no insurance and – in the vast majority of cases – absolutely no regard for the rules of the road or other road users. 
I almost killed one in Kalk Bay the other day when he decided to go straight on from the left hand turn lane (I was using said lane for the evidently unprecedented purpose of turning left).
Whose fault was that? But who would have got the blame? Ooh – I wonder.

But the Argus is completely blinkered, even giving us some unconnected background information on injured cyclist, Steve Ryan and his wife, Lara:

The couple are from Johannesburg, and moved to Cape Town in April. Ryan has participated in several cycle tours in Johannesburg and completed five Comrades Marathons.

So what? In fact, I have found that those individuals who have attained such dizzying heights of athletic achievement are often the worst offenders. Perhaps they think of themselves as superhuman or invincible. Or just too “special” to bother with that red traffic light. 
Not, of course, that I am suggesting Mr Ryan was in any way to blame for the accident he was involved in. I’m sure he was riding safely, respecting other road users, obeying traffic signals etc etc like all good cyclists do.

I’m not advocating the widespread slaughter of anyone on a bike, tempting as that may be. All I’m asking is for due consideration to be given to the possibility that in the event of an accident, the individual previously on two wheels may actually be at fault once (or twice) in a while. Given the standard of many of the cyclists on the road, it’s not that hard to imagine.