Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dear America, I love the NHS

Angelina Jolie has written about her double mastectomy for the New York Times. She had it because her mother died of breast cancer at 56, and she discovered that she was carrying the faulty gene, BRCA1, which meant she was at high risk of having breast cancer too. There's also a risk of ovarian cancer with BRCA1.

Angelina is a wealthy woman, as a successful screen actress and director, so finding the money to pay for the tests and surgery wouldn't have been a problem for her. She wrote,
Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live. The cost of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2, at more than $3,000 in the United States, remains an obstacle for many women.
Since British woman Wendy Watson persuaded doctors that she should have preventative mastectomies 21 years ago, the operation has become available on the NHS, after genetic testing and counselling. It seems scandalous to me that, in a developed country like America, money should still be an obstacle to saving a life. Those who opposed Barack Obama's healthcare reforms referred to the NHS in derogatory terms, rejecting "socialism", which seems to them to be a worse threat than disease, so American women with a family history of breast cancer may die because they can't afford preventative surgery.

Among other health issues, America's infant mortality rate is more than twice that of Japan or Sweden, while its emergency departments struggle to cope with the consequences of gun crime, which costs the US economy $37billion+ a year. Yes, the NHS has its problems, which have been keenly debated over the last few years, but America seems to have far bigger ones.

I've had a mastectomy and a whole bunch of other surgery and treatment from the NHS. If I was American, I think I'd have died before now.

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