The Organizations We Trust

Here is another piece I wrote dealing with the ventilator shortage problem.

In 1984 the Canadian Red Cross publicly informed hemophiliacs that the blood products it distributed were safe, even though not all sources of blood were tested. Spokesmen for the Red Cross also referred to the need to look at the cost benefit ratio in treating hemophiliacs. It was later found that more than 800 of Canada’s 2500 hemophiliacs had contracted AIDS from using the untested blood. About 95% of them contracted Hepatitis C. Even two years after it was known that untested and untreated blood was dangerous to use, the Canadian Red Cross was still distributing its older untested stocks.

This incident was a blot on the integrity of public health care organizations in Canada. Many people asked afterwards, “How could this happen?”, “They knew the dangers”. The answer of course was that they placed fiscal accountability and efficiency above the needs of the people that placed their trust in them. The Canadian Red Cross was not the only group that fell short of their responsibility. This same pattern was repeated by other organizations in other countries of the world as well.

We all tend to place a great deal of trust in organizations such as the Red Cross. Such groups we trust are the FDA, the CDC, HHS. In Canada we have The Ontario ministry of Health and Long Term Care, Health Canada and The Public Health Agency of Canada. These groups have developed plans to deal with a pandemic. They all acknowledge that there will be a severe shortage of ventilators. The plans they have to increase the availability of ventilators fall far short of even their own predictions. Again they know the dangers, but are not doing enough to solve the problem. They have to be fiscally accountable and efficient you know. That old cost benefit ratio.

They have a plan to deal with it though; it involves rationing. They will pick who lives and dies. You can find lots of these plans on the web. Just Google Pandemic Ventilator Plan Ration. Now Ontario, Canada where I live, has 1,096 ventilator support beds in ICUs in the province. The total demand for ventilators in a pandemic could easily be twice this amount. There are also 1,400 chronic ventilator patients on other ventilators. The published triage plans are not very specific on whether it will involve taking ventilators away from sicker chronic patients to give to the pandemic patients. I hope we can trust them.

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February 26, 2007

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