Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are demanding an emergency debate today on a controversial procedure to help Canadians suffering from multiple sclerosis.
Toronto MP Kirsty Duncan is leading the charge, pressing Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq call a meeting of provincial health ministers to develop a plan that would allow all Canadians with MS to have access to the procedure. She also wants the federal government to provide $10-million to Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada for research into a new hypothesis about the causes and treatment of MS.
"MS steals from futures from families, and there is no cure," Ms. Duncan writes in a letter to House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, setting out her reasons for the emergency debate.
She writes that it has been recognized as an autoimmune disease but a new hypothesis put forward in 2009 looks at the fact that it might be caused by "chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency" or CCSVI, which is the narrowing of the veins in the neck, chest and spine that doesn't allow for blood to flow from the brain efficiently.
A new procedure, which uses stents to open up the veins, has resulted in marked improvement for those who have had it. As a result, many Canadian MS patients "are now mortgaging their homes, their savings in order to travel overseas for the procedure," Ms. Duncan writes.
"If there is a glimmer of hope that the procedure can improve quality of life, it is an absolutely necessary, urgent intervention."
Speaker Milliken will consider the request after Question Period this afternoon.
(Photo: An MS patient walks with her daughter in Toronto's Pearson airport after returning home from treatment in the United States last month. Darren Calabrese for The Globe and Mail)
The text of Ms. Duncan's letter follows:
Dear Hon. Peter Milliken,
I am writing to you about a matter of the utmost urgency, and the need for federal leadership.
Fifty-five thousand to seventy-five thousand Canadians live with multiple sclerosis (MS); our country has one of the highest rates of the disease in the world. MS is a devastating, unpredictable disease, which affects balance, hearing, memory, mobility, and vision. Its effects are physical, emotional, financial, and last a lifetime. MS steals futures from families, and there is no cure.
MS has been largely recognized as an autoimmune disease. However, in 2009, Zamboni et al. put forward the hypothesis that MS may, in fact, be caused by chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) or a narrowing of the veins in the chest, neck and spine that does not allow for the efficient removal of blood from the brain. As a result, blood leaks into the brain, it is thought, depositing iron, which triggers an immune response.
The 'liberation' procedure uses venoplast ('balloons') to open up narrowed veins or inserts stents to help keep veins open. MS patients who have had the liberation procedure report an improvement in 'brain fuzziness' and circulation; and over time, a marked improvement in the quality of life.
I appreciate that there has been both controversy and interest regarding the CCSVI hypothesis and the liberation procedure, and that numerous questions remain. However, the International Union of Phlebology, the largest international organization devoted to the investigation and management of venous disorders, established an expert panel to formulate guidelines for physicians and healthcare professionals around the world to diagnose and treat vein malformations, including CCSVI.
I am therefore writing to ask for an emergency debate to ask that the Minister of Health show leadership through: (a) immediately convening a meeting of health ministers to develop a plan such that all Canadians living with MS would have access to appropriate diagnostic imaging to determine the presence of venous malformations, and the treatment if appropriate; and (b) provide $10 million for research into CCSVI and MS, as requested by The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
I am asking for an emergency debate, as 'time is brain', and the earlier MS is caught, and treatment begun, the better the prognosis. This is a genuine emergency, as a delay of a matter of months for some patients may mean the difference between working and not working, walking and not walking, or living on their own or in care.
The topic is immediately relevant, as the liberation procedure has been replicated in the United States, Poland, Jordan and Kuwait - with positive results. Patients are now mortgaging their homes, their savings in order to travel overseas for the procedure. If there is a glimmer of hope that the procedure can improve quality of life, it is an absolutely necessary, urgent intervention.
The topic is a concern throughout the nation as Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world. MS is the most common neurological disease affecting young adults in Canada, and every day, three more people in Canada are diagnosed with the disease in communities across this country.
I have reviewed the criteria for decision, and believe my request meets several criteria. I have already discussed what a delay in the procedure might mean to someone living with MS, and will now address the economic impacts. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), the estimated annual total cost of MS to the Canadian economy is $1 billion, more than that devoted to all infectious diseases combined. The overall direct costs of caring for, and treating Canadians with MS, are currently estimated at $139 million annually, with drugs accounting for almost half. A scan and angioplasty in a public hospital setting is estimated to cost $1,500. However, the true cost of MS has nothing to do with money. The impact on quality of life is simply catastrophic.
The matter absolutely falls within the administrative responsibilities of the government, as it is responsible for health of Aboriginal Canadians, as well as the Canadian forces-and the issue is pertinent to Canadians across this country.
I thank you for your consideration, and eagerly await your response.
Yours very truly,
Kirsty Duncan MP