Superbug Follow-Up: My Open Letter to Health Minister Jane Philpott

Photo credit: The Honorable Jane Philpott, Parliament of Canada Website: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members/Jane-Philpott(88835)

In light of my therapeutic rant on the Superbug crisis posted on my blog a few days ago, I committed myself to putting my actions where my mouth is, so to speak.  In doing so, I thought I would at least share with whomever’s interested my letter to current Canadian Federal Minister of Health Jane Philpott, and a whole lot of other elected political brass in our House of Commons, including the big guy himself (JT) whom I carbon-copied the letter to (special thanks to a wise-old wizard who, for now, shall go nameless for that ‘cc’ political tip a couple of years ago – it really does make a difference in putting your letter to the top of the political ‘slush’ pile).  Too bad it didn’t work that way for literary editors and publishers the way it does for politicians trying to get reelected, but I digress…

Here is my letter to Minister Philpott for those of you curious to read it.  Her Parliament contact information, as well as that of any federal politician you may wish to write to on this or any other issue – municipal, provincial, state, or national – is readily available online.  To fight off my natural inclination to turn this into a Social Studies lesson, I will stop right there and paste my letter below.  Hopefully, at the very least, I’ve helped bring some attention, someway, somehow, to somebody in regards to the seriousness of this issue, and by so doing, hope to gain some traction on getting people, politicians, doctors, researchers, whoever to begin taking action to quell the destructive potential this problem, if continued to be left unchecked, may befall on all of us…

March 4, 2017

The Honorable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health

 Confederation Building, Suite 162
House of Commons 
Ottawa, Ontario   K1A 0A6

Dear Honorable Minister Philpott,

I am writing this letter to you in regards to an issue that, according to many medical and scientific researchers, is a veritable ‘ticking time bomb’ that has the potential to be the greatest existential threat to not only Canadians, but to the entire world – that is the steadily growing, and adapting, number of antibiotic resistant bacteria, germs, and viral organisms that, to date, are not only untreatable but rapidly communicable and, most disconcertingly, deadly to anyone, of any race, gender, age, or nationality. 

As a medical doctor yourself, I obviously do not need to describe for you the roots or cause of this problem.  I would however, unequivocally state my dissatisfaction at the lack of worldwide attention being directed to the matter, and the lack of will expressed by pharmaceutical companies, medical researchers, and governments in the Western World to fund research into new antibiotics and treatments for these ‘superbugs.’  While I know the challenges, both in terms of both economic cost and scientific limitations, to conducting this research are immense, to sit idly by while these resistant germs and organisms continue to adapt and spread is foolhardy, irresponsible, and dangerous , especially as we are now seeing firsthand the clear links between the rise of these resistant germs throughout the world in the face of new age, world developments like accelerated climate change and the pronounced availability of antibiotics worldwide.      

While it is certainly a tendency of the human race, and certainly those of us among the electorate, to be reactive rather than proactive on issues such as these, I believe that we cannot afford to wait for the next major, inevitable, global pandemic to occur in order to capitalize on the public outcry to finally take action.  There is much groundwork to be laid not only in setting up the funding structures and implementation of this research, but also in educating the general public about the dangers of overprescribing antibiotic drugs, improper disposal of unused prescriptions, the careless use (not to mention the unregulated availability) of antibiotics for household pets, and the rampant use of sanitizers in public places and private dwellings.  Education, at this point, may be the best way to mitigate or quell the pending disaster that a superbug infestation or epidemic could potentially bring to our country.  I call on our current Canadian government to take the lead in addressing this issue nationally by looking at creative ways to entice private corporations to begin research into effective treatments for the bugs already festering in our country, and to also take the lead globally, so that international nations begin working together to share and fund research that will ideally save countless number of lives in the future, including those of Canadians, who presently have no idea the threat such contagions pose to their health. 

Thank-you very much for your time to consider my letter.  As a concerned Canadian voter, I look forward to your response. 

Sincerely,

Michael Saad

Cc: The Right Honorable Mr. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Cc: Ms. Rona Ambrose, Interim Leader of Conservative Party of Canada

Cc: Ms. Kellie Leitch, Critic – Health, Conservative Party of Canada

Cc: Ms. Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada

Cc: Mr. Thomas Mulcair, Leader of Canada’s NDP

Cc: Mr. Don Davies, Critic – Health, Canada’s NDP

Cc: Ms. Rachel Harder, Member of Parliament, Lethbridge Riding

***************************UPDATE:***************************  

Here is the response I received, not from Minister Philpott, but from a designee she assigned the response to:

Dear Mr. Saad:

Thank you for your correspondence of March 4, 2017, addressed to the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health, regarding antimicrobial resistance (AMR). I sincerely regret the delay in responding to your email. The Minister has asked me to reply on her behalf.

I agree with you that AMR is a growing threat to global public health. The Government of Canada recognizes this threat, and is committed to taking action to prevent, limit, and control the emergence and spread of AMR. Antimicrobial Resistance and Use in Canada: A Federal Framework for Action was released in October 2014, and maps out a coordinated, collaborative federal approach to addressing the threat of AMR in three strategic areas of focus: surveillance, stewardship, and innovation. The corresponding Federal Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance and Use in Canada, released in March 2015, outlines the concrete steps that the Government of Canada will take between 2015 and 2019.

Building on this initial response, a pan-Canadian framework for action on AMR and antimicrobial use (AMU) is under development by the federal government, the provinces, the territories, and external stakeholders across the human health, animal health, and agricultural sectors. As AMR is a shared responsibility in Canada, the Framework lays a foundation for coordinated, multisectoral action across jurisdictions on four key components: surveillance; stewardship; infection prevention and control; and research and innovation.

As you note in your letter, a lack of awareness surrounding AMR and AMU exists, and enhancing knowledge on this issue is a fundamental component of Canada’s efforts, both federally and as part of a pan-Canadian framework. The Health Portfolio participates in both national and international awareness efforts, and some of our educational resources can be accessed at: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/antibiotic-antimicrobial-resistance.html.

Surveillance of AMR and AMU is also essential to enhance our knowledge and understanding of this issue. To address this challenge, the Public Health Agency of Canada created the Canadian Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (CARSS) to provide an integrated picture of AMR and AMU across Canada. This enhanced and integrated surveillance is detailed in the CARSS Report, the most recent release of which can be found at: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/drugs-health-products/canadian-antimicrobial-resistance-surveillance-system-report-2016.html. To support a global picture of AMR, Canada has also joined the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System.

The Government of Canada is engaged at the global level on efforts to address AMR. For example, Canada endorsed the WHO Global Action Plan on AMR in May 2015. Through the G7, Canada has committed to encourage international discussions on incentivizing the pharmaceutical industry; incentivizing the research and development of new antimicrobials, vaccines, diagnostics, alternative therapeutics, and other medical countermeasures in human and animal health; and improving access to effective vaccines, diagnostics, antimicrobials, and alternate therapeutics.

The Government of Canada is committed to supporting research and innovation on AMR and is making investments through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Between 2011-12 and 2015-16, CIHR invested over $96 million in AMR research, with $20.2 million in 2015-16 alone. As part of these investments, CIHR has a focused initiative on AMR where investments are being made in developing new point-of-care diagnostics to allow for better diagnoses and treatment options for patients.

Thank you again for writing, and I hope that my comments are helpful in addressing your concerns.

Sincerely,

Dr. Theresa Tam, BMBS (UK), FRCPC
Interim Chief Public Health Office
Public Health Agency of Canada

 

The Existential Threat We All Face & Why We Need Each Other To Defeat It

We know it’s coming.  We know it’s inevitable, that it’s going to be awful and, with all of that, we know it’s going to kill a lot of people.

We know it so well that our military, governments, health systems, and emergency management agencies, at both the national and international levels have been drawing up mitigation strategies, map zones, and ‘what-to-do-if-the-worst-case-scenario-actually-does-happen’ contingency plans, all the while the rest of us (myself included) live our day-to-day lives, worrying about our kids, our mortgages, the crime rate, what we’re going to do on the weekend, what we’ll do for our next holiday.  In short, regular stuff we all should – and need to be – worrying about.

What we don’t know is what form it will take.  I am talking about the next global pandemic.  We, of course, have seen these before, and survived them.  To be fair, you wouldn’t be reading this, nor would I have written it,  had we not survived them.  But what scares me, and should, at the very least, concern you too, is my first sentence in this paragraph.  That we don’t know what form it will take.  Will it be a rogue virus, previously thought to be dormant coming from some long forgotten, contaminated region in the tropics?  Will it be something we have already heard about in the news today – mayhaps that mutated avian bird flu currently spreading in China (March 1st, 2017) or the recurrence of the West Nile virus that gave us scares back in 2003 and 2012 and which returns to us in smaller – and less sensationalized – outbreaks every year since?  Or will it be a bacteria resistant superbug, genetically altered through adaptation to be resistant to the overused and abused antibiotics we have, at least in the Western World, taken advantage of this past century?  I suspect it will be the latter – doctors and scientists, medical researchers and pharmacists, geneticists and pathologists alike are worried – make that very worried.  So why haven’t we heard about it?  Well, first off, we have, it’s just that we haven’t been listening.

As far back as the 1990s we’d been warned about them (now is the point when I would like to unequivocally point out that I am NOT a doctor, medical researcher, global alarmist, or even remotely what you’d call an expert in this field – just think of me as your regular, ordinary middle-class Joe here, with nothing to gain, or to lose,  by writing this piece and pasting it on the Internet for the world – with all of its online pundits and trolls – to criticize, ridicule, condemn, and make crass memes of…), the media reported on numerous experts and whistleblowers sounding the alarm on antibiotic resistant superbugs and the dangers of them, especially if they manifest in the form of easily communicable diseases, spread through the air, or by mosquitoes, fleas, germs, or whatever other avenue all the various bugs of the past 1000 years have spread (I did say I’m no expert on this, right?).

We’re also being warned about them right now, as in today, in March 2017.  Everyone from the American Center for Disease Control (the CDC) to Bill Gates have been conjuring up those dreaded worse-case scenarios that have been peppering our media, social & mainstream, this past week, sandwiched between Warren Beatty & Faye Dunaway’s Oscar mix-up, the latest Donald Trumpism, some controversial parole-granting in my own country (Canada), and the latest happenings in the sports world – the NHL Mumps outbreak (!) and Kevin Durant’s MCL Sprain.  A fair jibe at me would to be to question why I am choosing to bring this up now, and post it onto my blog page, berating you with my alarmist, belly-aching about it today.  Why didn’t I do this years ago, when I knew full well this problem was growing, and the potential consequences of it getting direr?  Good question, and I have the following three points to make to address it.

(1) I actually have been sounding the alarm, just not so directly. In March 2015, my novella White Army Stand was published, a story which posits a world threatened by such an outbreak.  The pathogen I conjured up, the Norcavirus, was completely fictional, based on no real, existing virus – hell I don’t even know if I should be calling it a pathogen in the annals of science.  In my story, my main character Matias, himself a victim of Norca, has to rely on an unconventional, radical, and highly experimental treatment for the disease because no existing drugs or treatment would work.  In that respect, he becomes the last hope for the human race.  Now, it is at this point, that I must be clear that I am not writing this to put in a cheap plug, or to showcase, my story – I have not, and will not, make a single dime off of it – it’s available online, for free, at Fiction-on the-Web.  You can find it right here, along with some great illustrations by Elkford, B.C’s Adam White, whom I will put in that cheap plug for, because he’s so talented: http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2015/04/white-army-stand-by-michael-saad.html  Why I am including it in this blog entry is because I want to prove to people this is a crisis I’ve followed for quite some time, and while my story was published in 2015 in Great Britain, anybody who is close to me knows I have been working on it a lot longer than that (and by “a lot longer” I literally mean over 20 years, and yes I can prove it if you’re want to press me on it).  So yes, I have been worried about superbugs and pandemics for some time.  And to be 100% up front, so too have a lot of writers & filmmakers before me, who’ve composed far greater and more influential pieces than I ever will – Stephen King’s classic novel The Stand, Wolfgang Peterson’s chilling movie Outbreak, and even Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, in all of its popular incarnations, posit the same end-of-life-as-we-know-it outcome in the face of an untreatable, all-too-real, global pandemic (okay, maybe minus the zombies & devils stuff, but definitely include the panic & human infighting parts). As for my character Matias, the results of his treatment I’ll save spoiler-free for anyone who wants to give the story a whirl.

(2) Okay, well number (1) was the fun point, at least in my own head, in terms of how fun it can actually be writing on a topic such as this one. Numbers (2) and (3) are far less fun to talk about, but represent the real reasons I am writing this blog entry.  Here’s the thing: why I am taking the time out of my *insanely-busy* life to sound the alarm right-this- second is because I firmly, without hesitation, know that climate change is hastening the disturbingly real possibility that the dreaded, world-changing pandemic is coming.  Forget about what’s causing climate change for a minute, don’t fret about the roles that humans may or may not be playing is hastening it, and ignore what those guys & gals in our sheltered, temperate zones  are saying about the heaps of snow & cold weather they’re getting outside their living room window  – let’s just acknowledge that the climate is changing, and by changing we mean that global temperatures are rising.  Scientists can prove it (I’ve seen the data, photos and I’ve read the research with the most critical eye you can imagine – like most of us, I would have loved nothing more than to have found some glaring inaccuracy, some fabricated omission, some gross contradiction to imply that the science was wrong, and I couldn’t do it).  We’re at a point now, I feel it’s safe to say, where even the deniers & skeptics we see on YouTube and on talk shows, don’t make any sense (even though I so desperately wish they did).  To stress that point, back when I was in high school, 25 years ago, it was conceivable when such deniers & skeptics posited that human beings didn’t have the capacity to impact something so monumental and God-inspiring as the climate, but in 2017, with developments such as the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, our replenishing of the Ozone Hole (itself a major crisis in my high school days), the spread of the Asian Brown Cloud, and a much better understanding of the circulation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, how can anyone imply that we are not living in the Anthropocene – the era where humans, above any other force of nature on Earth, has the most impact on the geological, atmospheric, hydrologic, and biological fate of the planet.

How climate change is increasing the odds, and expediting the inevitable pandemic that I, and a whole slew of experts, fear is coming, is by ridding our planet of the colder temperatures that have mitigated the potential sources of contagion, if not the actual viruses and bugs themselves, in our respective winter seasons.  Of course, like all of you reading this, I hope I’m wrong, and with me that the countless numbers of experts who I’m drawing such dire conclusions from – Bill Gates, Gwynne Dyer, all the ‘leftist,’ environmental cronies writing for National Geographic and Nature Magazine to name a few  – are all discredited, forced to eat crow, & shamed to obscurity.  If we’re not, then we have one last, real hope left, which leads me to my third and final point, number (3)…

(3) We can act now to start working on the drugs, the vaccines, the research, the protocols, to create the new treatments needed to combat the superbugs, or quell future pandemics, perhaps even the ‘big one.’ I will even go out on a limb (and believe me, posting this on my webpage for the world to scrutinize for posterity is that limb) and say that we as a human race, in all of our potential, in all of our capabilities, possess the means and know-how to concoct these treatments.  The problem, however, is the current, divisive political climate, and our incredibly uncanny, short-sightedness to be proactive when it comes to our collective fate.  I mean, it’s really incredible that the human race has lasted this long, when you come to think about all of our wars and the wanton destruction we’ve carried out over the past 3000 years of recorded human history.  We’re supposed to be the master species on the planet, yet you don’t see lions, or wildebeests, or jellyfish creating weapons of mass destruction or fighting wars of attrition, do you?  Not only is it amazing we’ve lasted this long, but the fact that we’ve overpopulated the planet is truly astounding.  While that overpopulation thing is no doubt a notable contributing factor to all of the aforementioned problems I’ve been whining about in this article, that fact is what it is, and it’s the hand we’re dealt.  Any solution to deal with that problem amounts to murder, abortion, and / or genocide and that’s forever off of the table, as it should be.  As a matter of fact, what I’m actually trying to offer is a way to hopefully avoid mass death altogether.  Yet, get this, the number one reason why, in the Western world at least, drug & pharmaceutical companies do NOT invest in new research, new protocols, and new drugs to counter the lethal threat to human existence that our superbugs pose, is because there is no potential to make money in doing so.  If I were talking to you directly I would repeat the last part of that sentence, but I’m not talking to you, I’m writing, so my Italicized emphasis will have to do.  Apparently there is no money making potential – no viable financial profit – in creating new medicines that could potentially save the human race.  Think about that for a second – and I’m a staunch capitalist, and even I think that’s absurd.  Just to show I am not making this up, here are the mainstream, sources I dug up that claim from (take your pick who to bash on this as bringing you such ‘fake news’ – I have the entire political spectrum encompassed in the following links, so see if you can discern what the common denominator in all four appear to be, and that denominator is certainly NOT ideology):

http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/we-may-soon-have-no-useful-antibiotics-left-expert-1.3302987

http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-uncounted-drugs/

http://democracyjournal.org/magazine/40/confronting-the-pandemic-threat/

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2017/01/13/nevada-woman-dies-superbug-resistant-to-every-available-antibiotic-in-us.html

Obviously (in case you can’t tell) placing profit over the fate of countless human lives, which could very well include our own, or our families, is unacceptable to me.  It should be unacceptable to you.  We desperately need to be united on this front, if we’re going to have any hope of mitigating the damage, certainly if we’re going to have any hope of winning the fight.  This research needed to start yesterday, and our respective governments must be prioritizing the facilitation of this research – if it means a nationalized drug plan in Canada, so be it.  If it means cutting military spending in the United States, I say go for it.  Write your MP or Congressman, premiers or Presidents, write to health boards, research institutes, pharmaceutical countries, write to anyone who will listen.  The biggest threat facing our people, our families, may not be the Russians, or migrants, or each other (though I daresay that may seem like it’s the case given the nasty turn politics in North America and the Western World have taken this past year-and-a-half).  No, the biggest threat may be that microscopic contagion from God knows where, maybe even in your own country or backyard, that is a ticking time bomb, an unknown, mutating pathogen no one has heard of and can’t pronounce, but who’s festering in the shadows, waiting to thrive in the larger, communicable world once it gets unleashed.  At that point, we will have heard of it, and this issue, along with its name and pathology, will be the singular, pressing, dominant fear on our collective psyches, for our families, and for our futures.

And by then it will be too late.  I’m going to do my part to help make sure that doesn’t happen.  I hope you do too.

 

Picture Credits:

(Left: Staphylococcus aureus antibiotic resistant, with a dead human neutrophil, courtesy of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases / NIH,  as found in Zielinski, Sarah, “Superbugs Are Everywhere: How to Stop Deadly Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria,” Slate Medical Examiner, November 2015).  Website URL: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2015/11/antibiotic_resistant_superbug_bacteria_are_everywhere.html

(Right: Image from “White Army Stand”, illustrated by Adam White, found at http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2015/04/white-army-stand-by-michael-saad.html)  I put Adam’s picture in the title bar because ever since we drew it 17 years ago, it continues to give me hope because, in so many respects, it captures the sentiment of unity and resiliency that I believe is our great hope to overcome this challenge, and which I closed this blog article with.