Sunday, 28 April 2013

The autism epidemic: what the World Health Organisation could usefully do for developed countries

This post is really a bit of an aside. On an alternative health site I read this piece on autism and the research into its causes. I am no more an expert on autism than on smoking, but find it hard to be persuaded that autism is a genetic disorder.

It is important to point out that there seems to be no consensus about what autism is:
Autism is a complex disability resulting in brain damage, gastrointestinal damage, sleep disorders, food sensitivities, epilepsy, immune dysfunction, self destructive behaviour patterns, repetitive behaviour, communication deficits and unresponsiveness to other people. It was first written about in a case study in 1943 by Dr Leo Kanner, who described 11 children with a condition that had never before been observed.
Autism might be described as a range of problems and indeed autism is also termed 'autism spectrum disorders'. The Gaia health piece points to a recorded incidences of one autism per fifty children and compares it to a 1970 figure of one in 14,875 recorded in Wisconsin in 1970. This is a stupendous rise and it seems feeble to say that it can be accounted for by different or better diagnostic techniques.

I am not disputing for a minute that the medical profession has been all too willing to describe ordinary behaviour as a medical condition and profit from treating it, but that's not what is at issue here. However it is true that like other behavioural conditions there is no single medical test that can confirm autism, and no doubt agreement on the extent of autism would be easier if there was such a test.

Autism is controversially attributed to the combined MMR vaccine. The reason for this is the numbers of parents who have observed their children's reaction to taking the vaccine, and also the difference in the children's developmental progress before and after taking the vaccine. Reports describe how children usually between one and two years old have variously lost eye contact, vocabulary, motor skills, appetite and sociability, and otherwise regressed from up to two weeks following their shots. The phenomenon is known as late onset autism, and has aroused concern because the timescales appear in many, many cases to indicate that a specific event has created this regression, rather than that the child has simply failed to develop at all. Various kinds of ill health and discomfort accompany the regression, and occasionally a child dies.

Faced with official blank looks, denials and assurances that vaccines are safe (in spite of mercury being a major ingredient of preservatives in the vaccines) people all over the world have researched what has caused their children's devastating and exhausting condition, and they have compared notes. That is why they know that so many of them have experienced a common pattern.  Some accounts are here, recorded in a 214-page document (Parents' Voice), which is still open for further additions. Short accounts of parent's experiences, several accounts per page, make sad reading: how do parents deal with such injuries to their children?

Many of the parents concerned did not know there had ever been a link between MMR and autism. Now, thanks to the Dr Wakefield controversy and the efforts of other campaigners  the issue is alive, but the medical establishment has still not acknowledged a link between autism and MMR – as the Gaia health piece states, research funds have been diverted to exploring autism and genetics.

My take is as follows: the single measles vaccine in the UK should not have been scrapped; and the testimony of parents whose children have been made ill should be taken properly into consideration. Efforts should be made to count the cases of late onset autism, and to investigate links with vaccines. If it is true that late onset autism accounts for anything resembling the incidences reported in the Gaia piece, this indeed amounts to an epidemic. There is no natural reason that a non-infectious condition should affect 300 times more people than it did less than two generations ago.

The World Health Organisation, if it wants to pay attention to the needs of developed countries, should look on autism as a crisis that dwarfs the smoking issue.
WHO got it wrong when they made tobacco the subject of the made the first global multilateral treaty – the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – as if there is no such thing as infectious disease or malnutrition any more. Tobacco is an easy target when they develop a prohibitionist model that sends prices up, especially during a period of international austerity when demand for tobacco is unlikely to weaken. It gives the WHO something to preach about without really having to address what makes people ill.

If its mission were truly health and looking after the children, it would investigate this awful phenomenon. But perhaps the relationship of the WHO with health is, shall we say, 'complicated', like that of the US Center for Disease Control:
According to the CDC, the origin of this epidemic is a mystery. However the agency regularly takes great pains to point out through various discredited studies that it is not caused by vaccines. It also maintains that this disorder, which it terms behavioural, is genetic in origin. While examining the veracity of these claims, it would be prudent to point out that the mandate of the CDC is to ensure that all children follow the vaccine schedule. It thus suffers from a conflict of interest when it says anything about vaccines, as even a hint that vaccines are unsafe goes against its mandate.
If medical authorities are too bound up with a pro-vaccine mandate, how can any research they undertake be credible? Can the World Health Organisation arrange for the credible investigation of this issue? Is the World Health Organisation an authority that can deal with epidemics like autism, or just a ladder of opportunity for bureaucrats?

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