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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Health: Debate over best system will continue

There is no doubt that I prefer social healthcare. That means I support healthcare funded by countries, such as the UK and Spain, rather than needing to buy private health insurance, as in the US.

Now, that is not to say either healthcare system provides superior medical care. It is purely about the costs.

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An American protester calls for the country to have one health plan.

Neither system is entirely free as workers pay something from their salary or wages as contributions toward the cost. But there are other big differences. Social medicine is free at the point of use, with no charges for doctors’ treatment or hospital care. The same cannot be said of private health care, where even GPs charge fees and you need health insurance. In fact, in the US, not having health cover has legal penalties.

Despite that, many people find the cost of insurance to be prohibitive.

I find it strange, and more than a little ironic, that insurance costs got worse after the US passed the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. How can ‘affordable’ equal more expensive? Some monthly premiums escalated from less than $60 a month to more than $300. And others cost a lot more.

Let me be clear, I am not saying the American system is flawed. It is just not for me.

Prescription costs a question of health

One item of contention in the UK is the cost of prescriptions. First, you must recognise that the UK IS made up of four healthcountries. A trip to the pharmacist in England will cost you £8.60 per prescription drug or item.  But prescriptions in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all free.

Since Lisa and I moved to Spain almost two years ago, we have been surprised by the low prescription charges here. Yes, we do pay – but just cents, certainly not excessive.

The standard of care here is excellent but, as anywhere, it can vary from doctor to doctor. We recently chose to change our doctor to another within the same health centre. It was so simple.

Last week, I had my first appointment with our new doctor. He listened to what I had to say, prescribed a couple of medications, and, as I have MS, he referred me to see a neurologist. Stopping at reception on the way out, I left with a confirmed appointment with a neurologist. It will be my first in 12 years.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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It’s time to make HSCT for MS available worldwide

The Maximov centre in Moscow is one of the leading providers of HSCT.

The Maximov centre in Moscow is one of the leading providers of HSCT.

Using HSCT to treat people living with multiple sclerosis may not yet be proven in the long-term, as is often pointed out by various national MS charities and some health professionals, but it certainly does have a whole lot of people saying how good it has been for them.

What’s more, and this is even more encouraging, whilst some in the medical profession only welcome the therapy cautiously and only for the treatment of the relapsing remitting type of our illness (RRMS), it actually seems pretty good for progressive MS too.

Fair enough, stories about great results are more anecdotal than from properly established clinical trials, but surely it should be the results that count. Results of real therapy of real patients is, to my mind, more important than ‘trials’.

I have nothing but admiration for people choosing to head for Russia, Mexico or wherever for their treatment – at huge costs to themselves. They have both courage and determination; courage to travel often long distances for what is still seen as a pioneering therapy – and determination to make life better for themselves and their families by effectively halting MS in its tracks. And that is besides their determination to find or raise the thousands of pounds, dollars or whatever, to pay for it. After all, HSCT does not come cheap.

Being at the cutting edge of a new treatment is going to require significant investment but I cannot help but wonder why the various health services around the world have not, as yet, seemed to grasp what is going on.

HSCT is not a cure for MS but the signs so far are that, while it does not repair damage already done to the nervous system, it is largely successful in halting progression. Furthermore, in a few cases, an actual improvement has been seen.

Now, I know that what I am going to say next will be a bit controversial with some parts of the medical establishment, such as neurologists, and downright opposed by the drug companies that are making so much money from sales of the MS drugs they produce. Nevertheless, it is a point of view that I feel must be expressed.

I believe that the national health services and organisations should stop hiding behind words like ‘unproved’ and grasp the nettle. They should accept, as evidence, what is being reported by people who have had the therapy and offer it to MS patients in their own countries.

In the long-term, it would be great to see HSCT being available globally but, until then, the cost of treatment in one of the existing clinics should be borne by the health services (or medical insurance companies) in the patients’ countries.

After all, the cost of the one-off Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant therapy is significantly less than the ongoing cost of MS drugs.

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Norovirus: Sanitisers not as good as soap and water

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Some people refuse to go cruising for various reasons but the one fear that seems responsible for the reluctance of many is that of becoming ill in an on-board epidemic of one type or another.

And, without a doubt, the most well-known bug that dominates their thinking is the Norovirus – and that is emphasised every time a cruise ship reports an outbreak.

Of course, when you think of the number of cruises are completed by all the ships of all the cruise lines – the proportion of those that report an outbreak of illnesses is absolutely tiny.

Nevertheless, Norovirus is the cause of real trepidation, so let me explain exactly what it is.

Norovirus, sometimes known as winter vomiting bug, is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in humans everywhere – not just on ships – and affects people of all ages. The virus is transmitted by fecally-contaminated food or water, by person-to-person contact and via aerial transmission of vomited virus and subsequent contamination of surfaces.

Much of the contamination can be avoided by good hygiene procedures so that the virus is not transmitted by person-to-person or person-to-foods. Many norovirus outbreaks have been traced to food that was handled by one infected person.

While having Norovirus is unpleasant, it is not usually dangerous and most of its victims make a full recovery within two to three days.

The genus name Norovirus is derived from Norwalk virus, the only species of the genus. The species causes approximately 90% of epidemic non-bacterial outbreaks of gastroenteritis around the world and may be responsible for 50% of all foodborne outbreaks of gastroenteritis in the United States,

On cruise ships and in hospitals, you will often find hand sanitisers placed at strategic points in an attempt to reduce, or even eliminate, infections. However, it seems they are not as good as washing hands.

Indeed. the UK’s Health Protection Agency claims that sanitising gels may be of benefit when used after a hand wash but adds they should not be regarded as a substitute for soap and water. Sanitisers may fail to remove all contamination from the hands, the agency warns.

The Center for Disease Control in the US also claims clean, running water plus soap should be used where available but that a hand sanitiser, containing an alcohol content of at least 60%, may be used instead where there is no convenient water supply.

However, one study in the US indicated that alcohol-based hand sanitisers may actually increase the risk of Norovirus in healthcare settings. Staff in long-term care facilities where Norovirus has been reported were found to be six times more likely to use hand sanitisers either to the same degree or more frequently than they would use soap and water.

So, wherever you are, keep your hands clean and make sure you wash them thoroughly.

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