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Saturday, March 3, 2007
Ex-pat on a mission of life-saving dimensions
By ANGELA JEFFS
In 1982, I was successfully treated for cervical cancer. At that time I had little idea that my tumor was linked to sexually transmitted disease. Thanks to American Carol Baird -- who says that as a survivor I am one of the lucky ones -- I now know better.
As a devout Christian, it would be easy for Baird to take to moral high ground with regards to rising rates of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) worldwide. But she acknowledges that advocating abstinence as the only form of foolproof protection is not what some people want to hear.
Agreeing therefore to concentrate on the subject of STDs primarily as a health issue, Baird opens meticulously organized files on the subject, saying she wants to concentrate on HPV as the cause of cervical cancer and more especially the go-slow attitude of Japanese officialdom to approve vaccines to save lives
"HPV is the abbreviation for human papillomavirus," she explains. "One of the lesser known STDs, it used to be known as genital warts but has mutated into a silent killer."
According to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report, some of the most common infectious diseases in the U.S. are sexually transmitted.
Baird, who says she can "talk this stuff in my sleep," is from Bellefontaine, Ohio. "We came to Tokyo as a family in February 2005 because of my husband's job with Honda."
With a degree in industrial and systems engineering, Baird enjoyed a corporate career in management, purchasing and contract procurement before switching to consulting, training and speaking, mainly in the procurement industry.
With three children of her own, her passion is in spreading the word among teens and young adults about STDs and related health issues, and training health professionals on the subject.
"I've talked with several groups in Tokyo, and would like to do more. There's so much ignorance. Even up-to-date sites on the Internet are inaccurate. I'm a stickler for getting things right. I believe in the adage that my mom always told me: Never repeat anything if you don't know the facts yourself."
Her interest began in 2000 before her oldest child would become a teenager. At about the same time, in response to rising figures in HIV/AIDS and STDs in general, four U.S. agencies (including the CDC and the National Institutes of Health) conducted a workshop near Washington, D.C. with experts in condom studies. Proven results -- that condoms do not, as alleged, protect against six out of eight STDs -- were not released to the public.
"Aggravated that nothing was done, a group of doctors began a suit, citing the Freedom of Information Act. As a result, the information was made public in July 2001. That means it was consciously withheld for a year. How many people became infected during that time because they had been misled into believing condoms provided safe sex?"
It is also true that a law was passed in 2000, making it requisite that condom manufacturers improve their labeling. But as before, nothing changed. The condom industry was being protected.
"Just as cigarette packs now state that smoking can kill, condom labels should be scientifically correct. It is estimated that 75 percent of everyone who has ever had sex in their lifetime has some strain of HPV. That should support the scientific studies that show condoms do nothing to prevent the transmission of HPV."
In 2002, Baird's elder daughter, then aged 14, accompanied her to a conference on abstinence education in Washington D.C. "She wanted to see if anyone else in the country was as crazy as her mom on the subject."
This year, on Feb. 6, a conference in Tokyo on HPV prevention was attended by interested parties, medical practitioners and officials from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. The subject? -- the Japanese government's refusal to fast track approval of the HPV vaccine that would save lives.
Baird cannot understand it. "With all this talk about the falling birthrate, you would think they would do anything to protect the child-bearing health of young women."
Baird urges us to read the "heartbreaking" letters from survivors on the National Cervical Cancer Coalition's Web site: www.nccc-online.org
"Pap tests do not identify STDs, only precancerous cells. Over 99 percent of all cervical cancers worldwide are now known to be caused by HPV. There are an estimated 250,000 cervical cancer deaths worldwide every year."
Baird wants to empower people with knowledge. "If the captain of the Titanic had been made aware of all the facts, his ship wouldn't have sunk. He saw only the tip of the iceberg. It was all that information below the surface that caused such loss of life."
More especially she wants to empower young people. In the light of Japan recently lowering the age of sexual consent for boys to 13, she believes the government should consider boys and young men also being vaccinated against HPV.
"How does the government justify having one of the lowest age of consent for boys and girls? Why would they do this other than to protect pedophiles? Imagine your 13 year-old son being diagnosed with anal cancer. Or your 13-year old daughter being diagnosed with cervical cancer. It is never in the best interest of teens to reduce the age of consent."
With young people having sex, with or without their consent, at an increasingly early age, anti-HPV vaccination should be routine. "There's no treatment for HPV. The younger the person is sexually active, the more immature the cells, the more likely they are to be infected with many STDs."
The vaccine Gardasil was approved in the U.S. in June 2006, with Texas the first state to legislate vaccination for all middle-school girls. Australia decided last month that that HPV as a health issue was so important that the vaccine should be free. Three doses are required. The only side effect reported can be a slight itchiness around the injection site.
As the manufacturers Merck and Co. Inc. USA, state: 'Gardasil is the only vaccine that may help guard against diseases that are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) Types 6,11, 16 and 18. HPV Types 16 and 18 cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. . .'
"Seventy percent is better than nothing, but the vaccine producers must continue to test and improve the vaccine to increase the protection from two strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer to the five or six strains that cause over 99 percent of the cervical cancer cases," Baird emphasizes.
Soon we will hear about the first-ever uterus transplant in the U.S. If rates increase of women who want children but are unable to because of HPV damage, where will they go for new organs? The situation is open to exploitation in less developed countries. Is this the answer?
Baird has no fear of the subject or of being regarded as a crusader. She'll go anywhere, she says. "I'll talk to anyone."
More information and links to resources can be found on Carol's Web site at www.carolbaird.com