On the eve of International Awareness Day for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome(CFS), Fibromyalgia (FM), Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) I am happy to be the bearer of good news!
The government of Ontario has just announced that a Task Force for Environmental Health has been formed, chaired by Dr. Howard Hu, Dean of the University of Toronto’s Dala Lana School of Public Health. Its primary task will be to advise the Minister of Health and Long Term Care on how to provide better evidence-based care for people with environmentally-linked conditions, notably Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) and Fibromyalgia. If you have one or more of these conditions, or if you know someone who does, it is clear to you that the needs of patients with these conditions are not being met. People who suffer from these conditions are faced with medical issues (obtaining the right diagnosis and medical support), financial issues (obtaining disability benefits and other financial support) and social issues (significant loss of quality of life, prejudice, and friends and family who do not understand).
As a clinician, I am one of 15 people selected to be on the Task Force. There is representation from other important stakeholders, such as patient groups, researchers, and public health professionals, and there are several full time employees of the Ministry assigned to work with the Task Force as well. I am very excited to work with Dr. Hu, who is an excellent choice as Chair. He is an occupational and environmental health specialist from the Harvard School of Public Health, but more importantly, he is a strong proponent of MCS as a biological condition. And he gets things done.
There is a lot of work to be done and no limit for the duration of the Task Force. Thankfully, it has support from all three political parties, which ensures that it will not meet its demise with a change in government, which is always a risk. Kudos to the politicians and bureaucrats who are forward thinking and understand the serious need for a Centre of Excellence for Environmental Health. Finally, it looks like there is help on the horizon for our patients.
Currently, the Canadian College of Family Physicians offers accredited workshops for practising doctors to learn the concepts of environmental health. However, these courses are poorly attended. Although there is a funded fellowship program in environmental medicine, it is not widely known and there are few applicants. Medical schools do not even address the impact of the environment on health. So the Task Force has its work cut out for it. It will be hard to initiate the necessary changes in primary health care to manage these environmentally-linked conditions.
I am looking forward to the challenge.