HPV: maybe it is women’s fault (Cartoon of the Day)

February 20, 2007

Bad news

(From Nick Anderson, Houston’s Chronicle’s excellent editorial cartoonist)

Ah, so what is it gonna be, conservative idiots? As a future doc, this picture sums up my feelings quite nicely.

Given all the brouhaha over HPV and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s order to implement a mandatory vaccination program for all school-age girls in Texas, I found an interesting nugget that has been largely ignored:

First lady’s influence?

Also, a spokesman indicated that first lady Anita Perry’s strong support for the vaccine may have played a role in the governor’s decision. A former nurse and the daughter of a doctor, Anita Perry works for an organization dealing with sexual assaults.

“I know they have discussed it, and it’s something they both feel very strongly about,” said Press Secretary Robert Black.

But some who oppose the bill have suggested that a political contribution from the vaccine-maker influenced his decision.

So his wife, a former health professional, may have had a bit to do with it. Do I buy that? Sure, why not – but lots of first ladies are involved in humanitarian and educational endeavors as well. If politicians actually listened to their wives a little, things would be a lot better in ALL countries.


Women: wear chastity belts to prevent sex-crimes

February 18, 2007

Postings have been quite slow around here… have been busy studying and fighting a nasty URTI. I’m afraid postings will suffer in the next couple of months, at least until June, when my baby is born.

But on with another story. Normally I roll my eyes and don’t bother with asinine stories, but this one is just too much:

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Women should wear chastity belts to prevent rape, incest and other sex crimes, a prominent Islamic cleric in northern Malaysia was quoted as saying Friday.

Abu Hassan Din Al Hafiz, speaking in the northern state of Terengganu, said chastity belts could protect women from a growing number of sex crimes in Malaysia, The Star newspaper reported.

The best way to avert sex perpetrators is to wear protection,’ Abu Hassan told a crowd of followers. My intention is not to offend women but to safeguard them from sex maniacs.’

Yes Mr. Cleric, women must wear chastity belts… is it too much to ask to educate the men over there that women should not be raped? I’m using the word “men” loosely here, people who rape women and children are beasts, not humans. This seems to be a concept that men worldwide don’t get: you CANNOT rape a women just because you feel like it. It is in the books you morons – rape somebody and you are going to jail, pure and simple. And if a woman is raped, it is NOT her fault:

Religious leaders in Malaysia’s conservative north have in the past blamed sexual attacks on women wearing provocative clothing and make up.

Just in case you don’t know what a chastity belt is, here is a pic. I’m sure the cleric won’t mind.

Chastity Belt


Hell Just Froze Over – Mandatory HPV Vaccination in Texas?

February 3, 2007

Did hell just froze over because of Texas?

Yes my friends, apparently hell just froze over:

HOUSTON, Feb. 2 — Texas on Friday became the first state to require all 11- and 12-year-old girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

Averting a potentially divisive debate in the Legislature, Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, signed an executive order mandating shots of the Merck vaccine Gardasil as protection against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, starting in September 2008.

Mr. Perry’s action, praised by health advocates, caught many by surprise in a largely conservative state where sexual politics is often a battleground.

“I had no idea; I was absolutely caught off guard,” said Representative Jessica Farrar, Democrat of Houston, who sponsored a bill to require the vaccinations starting this September. “Normally, the governor does not take things like this upon himself, although I’m glad he did.”

If you live in Texas and see some snow falling, it is not due to global warming, it is because Gov. Rick Perry – a stalwart conservative republican who is against abortion and stem-cell research – finally recognized that doing the right thing is not such a hard thing to do:

“Requiring young girls to get vaccinated before they come into contact with HPV is responsible health and fiscal policy that has the potential to significantly reduce cases of cervical cancer and mitigate future medical costs,” said Mr. Perry, who was re-elected to his second full term last November.

And it is official as well:

It is Republican Gov. Rick Perry who issued an executive order directing the state’s Health Human Services Commission (HHSC) to get ready to administer the HPV vaccine in girls at noted ages before they enter sixth grade.

The order, effective September 2008, also directs HHSC and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to “make the vaccine immediately available to eligible young females through the Texas Vaccines for Children program for young women ages 9 to 18, and through Medicaid for women ages 19 to 21,” says the statement of the governor’s office on its website.

See? It wasn’t that hard. Good for you, Gov. Perry. So every parent must vaccinate their school-aged girls with Gardasil, right? Wrong:

Under the order, girls and women from 9 to 21 eligible for public assistance could get free shots immediately. The governor’s office said parents could opt out of the school program “for reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs.”

Ahh, I see. So at least he didn’t completely screw over his conservative friends. I wonder what is the point of having a mandatory vaccination program if parents can opt out because of religious beliefs, but I digress. Time and education will eventually replace misinformation and stereotypes.

But I wonder, did Gov. Perry did this out of the goodness of his conservative heart, or because the scientific evidence finally convinced the guy? If by “scientific evidence” you mean “my former Chief-of-Staff, who is now a lobbyist for Merck, told me this would mean truckloads of money for them and for me”, then yes, he was convinced:

Is Perry’s order politically motivated? No one knows. But, USA Today has reported today that Perry has several ties to Merck, the maker of the HPV vaccine, and Women in Government, a not-for-profit organization comprised of state woman regulators, which some watchdog has claimed is too cozy with Merck.

Media has reported that Women in Government is quite active in promoting the Merck’s vaccine, which analysts say is positioned to make Merck more than billion dollars a year. According to USA Today, Mike Toomey, Perry’s former chief of staff, serves as one of the drug company’s three lobbyists in Texas. Perry’s current chief of staff’s mother-in-law, Texas Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, is a head of Women in Government.

“Perry also received $6,000 from Merck’s political action committee during his re-election campaign,” USA Today says.

Ah, now everything seems to make sense. A conservative politician from Texas is opposed to everything this vaccine stands for, and knows he can lose his conservative base over this, but he can make up those votes from the other side, and make a ton of money for his friends at Merck in the process.

Now let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment. Is there a conflict of interest here? Very likely. But are Gov. Perry’s actions regarding mandatory HPV vaccination wrong? Well, no. Merck does make the damn vaccine, and a generic will not become available in a long time. This vaccine represents a huge leap forward for women’s health. At around $400 for 3 shots over an 8-month period, it is expensive, and most health plans will NOT cover it. But while preventing cervical cancer is morally and medically correct, it is not exactly sound fiscal policy:

Mr. Perry says it makes sense to use the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer which would otherwise cause a large burden on medical expenditure. But does this mandatory inoculation of the HPV vaccine really save medical costs?

On average, a 5-year treatment for a case of cervical caner would cost $11,000, early studies show. For a 5-year span, about 5800 new cases of the disease are expected to be diagnosed in Texas, which means the medical cost for five years is 63.8 millions or 12.8 million a year.

In Texas, there are about 6.31 millions people now under age 18, meaning the number of girls who are required to receive the HPV vaccine each year is about 0.35 million. The total number of girls to receive the vaccine is 1.76 million, meaning that Merck can rake in 630 million dollars in five years or 126 million dollars in the vaccine sales in Texas alone with Mr. Perry’s order.

The cost for the first year would be double the price tag as girls both at age 11 and 12 will receive the vaccine. The calculation is based on the price of the vaccine at $360 per girl.

It seems that this state mandatory vaccination can save about 700 women’s lives a year in Texas at a cost of 126 million dollars a year spent on the preventive vaccine. These 700 women would otherwise need 7.7 million dollars for treatment of their cervical cancer.

Perry’s order can save some women’s lives, but it does not save money.

I am not saying that vaccinating women with Gardasil is not worth it – it is. It does make sense from a public health point of view, because cervical cancer it is the second most common cancer in women after breast cancer. Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, will definitely be most valuable in the developing world, where most women don’t have access to a yearly PAP smear. But the big fight, the one that will set the precedents for other countries to follow, is taking place in the United States and Texas, of all places, just landed a knockout blow.


Should HIV+ women even think about having children?

December 22, 2006

Should HIV-positive woman even think about having children? Of course they can have children, but they need to be fully aware and educated about their own reproductive rights.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health nongovernmental organisation (NGO), research in both the developed and developing world suggests that HIV status does not significantly dampen people’s desire to have children. As more and more HIV-infected South Africans access life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, the question of whether or not to have a child, and how to do so as safely as possible, is bound to become more common.

Here is some more:

The disapproval of friends and family, and even some health workers, may deter those less well-informed than Madonsela from learning more about their options. “Most people think if you’re positive you don’t have the right to be in a relationship, or to have a baby,” she said.

HIV-positive pregnant women in many countries face pressure by health workers to have abortions or to be sterilised, according to the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW).

Despite these obstacles, a small but growing number of HIV-positive men and women are deciding to have children. In the developed world there are a number of options: a process called ‘sperm washing’, which separates sperm from HIV-causing agents before being used for insemination, is safest for couples where a positive man wants to avoid the risk of infecting his negative female partner or reinfecting his positive partner; artificial insemination is the safest way of conceiving for couples with a positive woman and a negative man.


Reality check: 95% of Americans had premarital sex

December 20, 2006

This is from CNN. The conservative wingnuts are going to shit a brick when they read this:

More than nine out of 10 Americans, men and women alike, have had premarital sex, according to a new study. The high rates extend even to women born in the 1940s, challenging perceptions that people were more chaste in the past.

“This is reality-check research,” said the study’s author, Lawrence Finer. “Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades.”

Finer is a research director at the Guttmacher Institute, a private New York-based think tank that studies sexual and reproductive issues and which disagrees with government-funded programs that rely primarily on abstinence-only teachings. The study, released Tuesday, appears in the new issue of Public Health Reports.

[…]According to Finer’s analysis, 99 percent of the respondents had had sex by age 44, and 95 percent had done so before marriage.

The emphasis is mine. I still know people abstain until they get married, but I’m not naive as to think they are in the minority. In fact, I think I would have had more sexual partners in college if I could go back, but hindsight is a bitch, ain’t it?

Of course, I’m joking (my wife is looking over my elbow…)

Then why all the focus on abstinence-only sex education? Don’t these people get that if you abstain but are uneducated about sex, you are just as likely, maybe even more, to acquire a sexually transmitted disease, or even getting pregnant? You still need to learn about sex, period, and that means TALKING about sex in a sensitive, educated, medically correct, informed-manner, not just pretending people that people don’t have sex. What, they never fell in love while they were younger?