Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Swine Flu : A Crisis?

It's all over the news. The Swine Flu has entered the U.S., and everyone is responding quickly. Here is what has happened already:


  • Over 100 schools have closed.

  • President Obama called on all schools with possible swine flu cases to "strongly consider temporarily closing."

  • Congress approved $1.5 billion in emergency funds.

  • Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that everyone involved in schools needs to "pitch in and do our part to prevent the spread of this flu virus."

  • The Department of Education and the CDC have held conferences to give updates and advice for handling the crisis.

  • WHO Director-General Margaret Chan has raised the alert level to phase 4.

  • Shipments of the drug Tamiflu from the federal stockpile, enough to treat 11 million patients, have been distributed to several states.

  • Dr. Jesse Goodman, of the Food and Drug Administration's swine flu work said,"We're working together at 100 miles an hour."

  • Congress has asked Homeland Security to consider closing the Mexican border.

Here are the numbers: There have been 84 documented cases in the U.S. There has been one death, a two year old boy with underlying health issues.

Updates on the Swine Flu epidemic are all over the papers, T.V., Internet, and radio. You can't avoid it.


This is a crisis and deserves a fast response. Sick children, and the death of even one child, is a great loss. So please understand what I am about to say. I in no way wish to belittle those who have suffered from the swine flu. I would just like to point out some comparisons.


1) Since the outbreak in the U.S., there have been 84 cases of swine flu, and one death. Compare that to the fact that 12,600 families are told their child has cancer each year. That is 35 families every single day of the year.


2) The media tells us that the 84 cases and one death from the swine flu is a "crisis" and "epidemic". But do a google search on childhood cancer, and you will find the media consistently refers to the 40,000 children currently with cancer, and the 2,500 annual deaths, as "very rare".


3) To protect yourself against the swine flu, you should wash hands, not touch your nose, and cover your mouth. You can even wear gloves and a mask. But there is no protection against childhood cancers. In fact, the cause of most childhood cancers is still unknown.


4) The swine flu produces severe flu symptoms. The effects of cancer are beyond description. So just consider this: Cancer is part of the body, so the treatment is a process of poisoning the child to the brink of death, then pulling back hoping they stabilize, then hitting them again. And again and again and again. Maybe a year, maybe 7 years. The resulting organ failures often cause more complications and deaths than the cancer itself. And then you wait and pray that it all worked. "Remission" only means they think they got. "Relapse" means they were wrong.

5) The government has opened up it's stockpile of flu drugs to fight the crisis. But there is no stockpile of cancer drugs. In fact, it has been 30 years since a new pediatric cancer drug has been developed. A 5 year study by the National Institute of Health concluded that new drugs for pediatric and adolescent cancers are not being developed because the profit margins are too slim. Therefore mega-doses of adult chemotherapy are administered to children, using a medical assembly line system called protocols. The great need for individualized care is ignored because it is not economically sustainable.


6) Congress has approved $1.5 billion in ADDITIONAL funding to fight the swine flu. With 84 infected people, that is $18 million per person. Childhood cancer receives a TOTAL of $30 million. That works out to $750 for each child currently fighting cancer.


So does any of this scare you more than the swine flu? It should. The emergency response to the swine flu had be great. But where is the emergency plan for childhood cancer? And where is the media attention? There is none.


Some might say these are not a fair comparisons. Well, in one way they would be correct. The $1.5 million for the flu has been paid. The $30 million for childhood cancer was approved, but has never funded. Other issues of greater importance keep taking priority, such as $120 million to distribute free condoms in 3rd world countries (Yes, really. It's in the stimulus package).

I am not criticizing the response to the Swine Flu. It fact, I believe it is an appropriate response. I just do not understand why our children with cancer deserve less.


Please remember:



  • 1 in 300 children will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 20.

  • 12,600 children are diagnosed each year.

  • 3,000 will die of cancer each year.

  • Cancer is the #1 disease killer of children ages 1-19.

  • The cause of most childhood cancers is still unknown.

  • Only 3% of cancer research money goes toward childhood cancers.

  • There are currently 30,000-40,000 children fighting cancer in the U.S.

  • The number of children diagnosed with cancer has increased every year for the past 25 years.

  • Teenagers and young adults (ages 15-22) are the only age group that have flat or declining survival rates from cancer.

  • In the past 35 years ONLY ONE new cancer drug has been approved for pediatric use.

  • Since children can handle much more chemo than adults, most treatments are little more than mega doses of adult cancer chemotherapy treatments. The result of these high doses of chemo on children is a higher rate of secondary cancers.

  • For reasons not fully known, teenagers experience the highest rate of secondary cancers as a result of the high dose chemotherapy treatments.

  • Teenagers have the highest cancer fatality rate of any age group under 80. Their cancers tend to be much more rare, therefore lacking established treatments. Their cancers also tend to be far more advanced when diagnosed.

  • A 5-year study at Children's Hospital Pittsburgh of UPMC recently concluded that teenage cancer survivorship is lower due in part to a lack of access to clinical trials. They concluded: "Patients who are enrolled in clinical trials offering the most advanced cancer treatments do better than patients who receive conventional treatment. Adolescents and young adults with cancer are less likely than younger children to be enrolled in clinical trials."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen...Amen,as I sit here with tears streaming down my face at the truth and power of your words.
with unstoppable hope sinjin's mama
www.caringbridge.org/visit/sinjinandrukates

Jennifer (Kids Cancer Crusade) said...

I agree completely. I was thinking the same thing when I heard of the emergency funding. I just can't wrap my mind around it...

-Jennifer
www.kidscancercrusade.org