New normal same cancer

27/11/2020

Early diagnosis and treatment can make the difference between surviving cancer and dying from it.

Covid-19 lockdowns have saved some lives but endangered those of others whose diagnosis and treatment have been delayed.

Ovarian cancer is one which is often diagnosed late at the best of times because symptoms can be vague and mistaken for those of several far less serious problems.

You can learn about symptoms at Cure Our Ovarian Cancer. If they persist for more than two weeks, see a doctor and keep going until you get a diagnosis.

 


NZ Covid resilience high but low access to vaccine

26/11/2020

Bloomberg has ranked 53 countries’ Covid-19 resilience:

Bloomberg crunched the numbers to determine the best places to be in the coronavirus era: where has the virus been handled most effectively with the least amount of disruption to business and society? . . .

The Covid Resilience Ranking scores economies of more than $200 billion on 10 key metrics: from growth in virus cases to the overall mortality rate, testing capabilities and the vaccine supply agreements places have forged. The capacity of the local health-care system, the impact of virus-related restrictions like lockdowns on the economy, and citizens’ freedom of movement are also taken into account. . . 

 

Effective testing and tracing is a hallmark of almost all the top 10, embodied in South Korea’s approach. The country approved home-grown diagnostic kits within weeks of the virus’s emergence, pioneered drive-through testing stations and has an army of lightning-fast contact tracers who comb through credit card records and surveillance camera footage to track down clusters. Like Japan, Pakistan and other parts of Asia, Korea has drawn on recent epidemic experience after suffering an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, in 2015. . . 

The under-performance of some of the world’s most prominent democracies including the U.S., U.K. and India contrasted with the success of authoritarian countries like China and Vietnam has raised questions over whether democratic societies are cut out for tackling pandemics.

Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking tells a different story: eight of the top 10 are democracies. Success in containing Covid-19 with the least disruption appears to rely less on being able to order people into submission, but on governments engendering a high degree of trust and societal compliance. . . 

The result is an overall score that’s a snapshot of how the pandemic is playing out in these 53 places right now. By ranking their access to a coronavirus vaccine, we also provide a window into how these economies’ fortunes may shift in the future. It’s not a final verdict, nor could it ever be with imperfections in virus data and the fast pace of this crisis, which has seen subsequent waves confound places that handled things well the first time around. Circumstance and pure luck also play a role, but are hard to quantify.

The Ranking will change as countries switch up their strategies, the weather shifts and the race intensifies for a viable inoculation. Still, the gap that has opened up between those economies at the top and those at the bottom is likely to endure, with potentially lasting consequences in the post-Covid world. . . 

Although the USA ranks poorly for case numbers and fatalities it ranks highly for access to vaccine which brings its resilience ranking up.

New Zealand tops the list and has done well with relatively few cases and fatalities but has a lower ranking (2/5) for for access to vaccines.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says we’ll need a ‘certain’ level of herd immunity before our borders open:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has revealed New Zealand will need to have a certain level of Covid-19 herd immunity before border restrictions are significantly altered.

But that may still be a long way off – the Minister of Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins said some travel restrictions would likely remain in place for another 12 to 18 months. . . 

‘Certain’ must mean quite high which will require widespread access to publicly funded vaccines.

No-one is suggesting the government will force anyone to have a vaccine, but governments, and businesses, can restrict access to people who don’t get vaccinated. Qantus has already announced it will require people to be vaccinated before they fly.

People will have the freedom to refuse a vaccination but those who do will find their freedom to travel is restricted.

 


Inconvenience tiny compared with consequences

13/11/2020

Everyone who works in downtown Auckland is being asked to work from home today after the confirmation of another case of Covid-19 in the community:

Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay says Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) has interviewed the person.

The student in her 20s was one of three cases announced at the afternoon media briefing today.

McElnay says the woman’s job is a customer-facing role. She called in sick to work after being tested but went to work after talking to her boss, although she wore a mask. . . 

The worker and her manager will be two of the most unpopular people in the city, given the potential for another cluster and then another increase in lockdown levels.

It’s difficult to understand what motivated the woman who’d tested positive to listen to her manager rather than the advice to isolate and what motivated the manager to tell the staff member to ignore the advice. That isn’t an invitation to unleash invective on them or the business. Who knows what pressure they were under?

But no matter what the motivation or the pressure, they’ve risked the health of a lot of people, increased the threat of another lockdown, and imposed costs and inconvenience on other people and businesses. They’ve also added the cost of a shut-down and deep clean on their own business and almost certainly breached health and safety law.

The message on acting responsibly, using the Covid app or keeping a record of where you’ve been, getting tested if you have symptoms and isolating until you get the result is clear but it obviously isn’t getting through to everyone:

Covid is back in the community, back in Auckland city, threatening to cut short our window of recovery and jolting us out of complacency and slack behaviour, says Auckland Business Chamber CEO, Michael Barnett.

“Our continued freedom of movement is in our hands. The price is simple and so are the guidelines that we can follow to stop another outbreak – stay home if there is the slightest indication of illness, alert the helpline, get tested at one of the pop-up stations being set up across the central city, always sign in using the tracer app, wash your hands, wear a mask and keep a distance,” he said. “Employers need to act responsibly and show care. Tell any of your staff who are not feeling well to stay home and give them the support they need to do what is right for them – and for all of us to keep the virus away. The cost of another lockdown, even if it is possible to localise it to a specific area, is too high for many businesses to bear and the knock on effects will shake confidence, viability and sustainability of jobs.”

Mr Barnett said while most businesses have contingency plans in place if alert levels shift up and can have their staff working remotely as a precaution, the new Auckland case is a stark reminder that we all have to do the right thing to keep the virus away.

“It’s a tiny inconvenience to use the Covid app or jot down where you have been so that the track, trace and isolate processes designed to keep us safe can be activated. Christmas is coming and I am sure no one wants the pandemic grinch to steal it away from us because not all of us could be bothered following the guidelines. So when you are told to stay at home and use the app wherever you go, please do so.”

I wasn’t particularly good at using the app at first but the second Auckland lockdown, and the knowledge that my daughter is vulnerable because she has cancer persuaded me that the inconvenience of acting responsibly is tiny in comparison with the consequences of contracting and spreading Covid-19.


Still holes in border protection

11/11/2020

Another day, another report on holes in our border protection:

Health workers in New Zealand quarantine hotels are some of the worst protected in the developed world, according to a man in managed isolation who’s helped kit out medical staff all over the world.

Tim Jones says he predicted the current outbreak when he arrived at his isolation hotel two weeks ago, shocked by the low level of personal protective equipment worn by nurses, defence force personnel and border workers.

He was returning home from Britain after working for four years for a New Zealand-owned, US-based company RPB which provided protective equipment for frontline workers in hospitals in 50 countries, mostly the United States, Britain and Europe.

“In short, New Zealand has been the worst protected for frontline health workers that we have seen,” Jones said.

“I guess probably the biggest red flags were when we landed at the border. We only saw surgical masks, including on army people who were on the bus with us so obviously in close proximity, travelling to our managed isolation facility.”

He was “completely blown away” to find out from a New Zealand Defence Force contact that even staff who worked in Auckland’s Jet Park, where most people have Covid-19, were wearing the most basic surgical masks. . . 

Where’s WorkSafe when we need them?

Failing to provide border staff who are dealing with potentially infected people with the best PPE is a serious breach of employer responsibility. It is even worse for staff in facilities where people with the disease are quarantined.

If farms didn’t provide staff with good protective equipment when they’re dealing with dangerous chemicals they’d be liable for prosecution for health and safety breaches. Not providing MIQ staff with adequate protection from a potentially fatal illness looks like a similarly serious breach.

The Ministry of Health is urgently looking into whether to use N95 masks at the highest risk facilities, like Jet Park.

Dr Bloomfield said there was growing evidence workers who had contracted the virus at managed isolation hotels may have caught it from transmission through the air.

This is a case where precaution should come before the evidence. It’s much better to provide more protection than necessary than to wait until the need for it is proved or disproved.

The Nurses Organisation has been calling for the better level protection, saying it did not know why it was not there already.

It also wants an investigation into how all managed isolation facilities are being run.

This follows David Farrar’s revelation of this mismanagement of a man who flew with someone who tested positive for Covid-19:

I’ve been contacted by the family of someone who was in the same row as the positive Covid-19 contact on Air NZ flight 457 on Thursday.

They have been given different isolation instructions from every agency they have interacted with. They are so alarmed as the lack of coherent and consistent advice, that they want people to be aware that we still have systematic failures in our Covid-19 response, as we saw with the lack of front line worker testing. . . 

Theses are systems failures and each one adds credence to the belief that eliminating Covid-19 in the community and keeping it at the border owes at least as much to good luck as good management.


MIQ needs flexibility

06/11/2020

A lack of capacity in managed isolation is keeping a Sydney-based family from visiting their  terminally ill father.

A New Zealand couple based in Sydney say their newborn baby will not meet his dying grandfather if they cannot find space in a managed isolation facility.

This comes as the Government announced its Managed Isolation Allocation System was fully booked until December 20.

Under new rules, people travelling into New Zealand needed a voucher for a managed isolation facility before boarding a flight to New Zealand. . . 

A friend has a place and will be returning home in a couple of weeks. He doesn’t know where he will have to isolate and is willing to pay more for a higher standard of hotel but that isn’t a choice.

These are just two examples of a system that isn’t as flexible as it needs to be.

The country has paid a very high economic cost to eliminate community transmission of Covid-19. We cannot risk an incursion at the border which means everyone coming in must isolate.

But the risk isn’t the same for everyone.

People returning from countries where Covid-19 is rife pose a much higher risk than those coming from countries which have the disease under control.

The ones from high risk countries should have to stay in managed isolation facilities.

People from low risk countries could be given the option of self-isolating, providing electronic monitoring was feasible and consequences for breaching isolation were high enough to ensure they stayed put.

Everyone coming in is charged for the costs of MIQ which is fair but some, people, like my friend, are willing and able to pay more for a higher standard of accommodation. Others wont be able to afford the $3,100 for the fortnight’s enforced stay and there ought to be a less expensive, but still safe, option for them.

The story of the Sydney-based family with the dying relative won’t be an isolated case and the system must be able to cater for them.

The government has been exhorting us all to be kind.

It must follow its own exhortations and ensure that MIQ has the flexibility to allow compassionate entry for those who need it and a variety of prices for those who can’t afford to pay the standard fee as well as those who would choose to pay more.

 


Yes and no

30/10/2020

The preliminary results on the two referendum questions are yes and no:

Nearly two thirds of voters (62.5%) ticked yes for legalising euthanasia and 53.1% ticked no to legalising cannabis.

The final vote count will be announced next Friday. They won’t overturn the euthanasia result and will be very, very unlikely to change the cannabis one.


Ports close hole govt left open

29/10/2020

Ports of Auckland has closed a hole in the country’s Covid-19 defense that the government left open:

New Zealand’s biggest port has sharply criticised the Government’s lack of COVID-19 rules for international shipping crew, and together with Tauranga Port has introduced its own rules. 

Ports of Auckland told customers in an advisory, obtained by Newshub, that recent positive cases represent “significant failings”.

Foreign ships manned by foreign crew are critical to trade, but swapping crews on these vessels represent an obvious risk. 

Current rules mean foreign crew can fly into Auckland and travel to a port to board a ship without mandatory testing or any isolation. 

“We see crew transfer as a weak point, so we’ve acted immediately to close that,” Matt Ball, General Manager of Public Relations and Communications at Ports of Auckland.

“What we’ve done is introduced a rule that crew can only transfer if they’ve undergone 14 days of managed isolation beforehand.”

The requirement, which includes double tests while in isolation, was implemented after the Auckland marine engineer tested positive after working on the Sofrana Surville. Also on deck that day were eight Filipino seafarers, who’d just flown in and boarded the ship without a test or isolation. . .

In an advisory, the Ports of Auckland told its customers: “We had thought that the New Zealand authorities had a robust process in place for international crew exchanges, but this case has identified some significant failings.” 

In the advisory, it states that the New Zealand authorities need to tighten up the crew change process and that this point has been made very clear at the highest levels. . . 

The company saw a hole and plugged it, why didn’t the government do it months ago and why isn’t it requiring all other port companies to follow Auckland’s example?

The failure to test high risk workers, including port, airport and quarantine workers was first highlighted by Newshub on August 13 – almost two months after a testing strategy was announced.

On August 17, when questioned about the lack of testing of quarantine workers, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said officials didn’t know testing rates were not up to scratch.  

“No one of course said to us at any point, that I recall, that what we asked for was not happening,” Ardern said. 

However, newly released documents show Cabinet did know.

An August 7 briefing told Ministers weekly testing of quarantine workers hadn’t started and only 12 of 2,100 port workers had been tested.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister says issues with testing of border staff have now been rectified.

Can we rely on that reassurance? Is every other port taking Auckland’s strict approach?

We’ve managed to stamp out community transmission of Covid-19 at significant financial and social cost.

The only vulnerability is with incoming passengers and workers on planes and ships. The only way to keep the disease from spreading in the community is to ensure it can’t get past the border.

That requires plugging every hole and ensuring they stay plugged not just for New Zealand’s sake but for that of the crew on ships and for the people in the next port the ships will visit.

 

 

 


Sign to save lives

28/10/2020

One New Zealand woman dies of ovarian cancer every 48 hours.

You can help change that horrifying statistic by following this link and signing the petition to save lives.

It is the work of four gynaecological cancer organisations that are seeking better outcomes for women with the disease with a petition that seeks better education of women and health practitioners, improved access to tests and treatment, improved access to clinical trials and a lot more research.

The petition is non-partisan, the women promoting it have worked across parliament to get cross-party support.

The media release from Ovarian Cancer Awareness explains:

Organiser of a petition asking for a better deal for education about and support for ovarian cancer, Jane Ludemann, says that legislators and decision makers need to start taking this disease seriously; it kills a woman every two days in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Ovarian Cancer is the most deadly gynaecological cancer, and kills more women than New Zealand’s annual road toll and more than melanoma. Yet it remains underfunded and largely ignored,” she says.

Jane is spearheading a petition to Parliament asking for the development of ovarian cancer education campaigns for the public and health professionals, better access to testing for women with symptoms, improved access to approved therapies and clinical trials, and dedicated funding of research.

“The most significant issues around ovarian cancer begin with the lack of knowledge about it – women don’t know the symptoms and leave it too long to report to their doctors, who themselves often don’t connect the symptoms with the cause.

“Next, there is no specific screening test for ovarian cancer (unlike a mammogram for breast cancer or a smear for cervical cancer) and providers use the excuse of funding to leave symptomatic women untested.

“Then we lack access to drugs that are proven effective overseas and to clinical trials – which would allow women to access promising new treatments.

Jane says that virtually every advance in cancer survival has been made on the back of clinical trials and the lack of funding in this country means the trials are not available here.

“It is extraordinary that the government spends more than $126 million on medical research through the Health Research Council (HRC) every year. In 2018, 2019 and (to date) in 2020 the HRC has not funded any ovarian cancer research at all.

“Significant improvements in survival just cannot be made without advances in treatment and screening through research.

“There are just too many families affected by the Ovarian Cancer-caused illness and deaths of mothers, partners, sisters, nieces and friends. In the lead up to the election we hope both sides of the house will pay attention to this very real health issue,” she said.

The petition is being supported by Cure Our Ovarian Cancer, Ovarian Cancer Awareness, Talk Peach, and the New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation. If can be accessed here:

www.parliament.nz/en/pb/petitions/document/PET_99389/petition-of-jane-ludemann-for-cure-our-ovarian-cancer

Ovarian Cancer – some facts

  • One New Zealand woman dies of ovarian cancer every 48 hours.
  • Ovarian cancer survival overall less than half that of breast cancer. For advanced (stage 3-4) ovarian cancer, the 5 year survival rates are 3-4+ times less.
  • 90% of NZ women can’t name a single symptom before they are diagnosed. The majority of women in NZ are diagnosed at an advanced stage.
  • In New Zealand overall survival is 37%, a figure which hasn’t changed in over 15 years, and is 5% less than Australia. If detected at stage 1 (when the cancer is contained within the ovary) survival is over 90 %
  • A cervical smear does not detect ovarian cancer. There is no screening test. However, a ca-125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound can detect over 98% of ovarian cancers and their combined cost is similar to a mammogram. But over a quarter of NZ women with ovarian cancer have to visit their doctor 5 or more times about their symptoms before being offered a test
  • Australian government in 2019 announced targeted research funding – allocating an additional $35 million ($20 million for ovarian cancer and a further $15 million for gynaecological clinical trials). The New Zealand government has funded no research in this area for the past three years.
  • For more information see: https://ovariancancer.co.nz

Jane is my daughter. I wrote about her living under the cancer sword here.

Her personal website is janehascancer.com 

You’ll find more about the petition and ovarian cancer at Ovarian Cancer Aotearoa Coalition


Who do you believe?

22/10/2020

Nurses in MIQ hotels are complaining about staff shortages and 20 hour working days:

Twenty nurses have been pulled away from other jobs around New Zealand to staff Auckland’s managed isolation facilities.

Nurses say they’re concerned about serious staff shortages and burnouts, and claim some are expected to work 20-hour shifts.

One registered nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, said while she takes pride in protecting Kiwis in isolation hotels, she is now disillusioned and fed up.

“I know many other nurses who are feeling despondent, despairing, frustrated and angry,” she told Newshub. . . 

She said the situation changed for nurses after the Northern Regions District Health Board took over employing staff from healthcare agency Geneva. Pay was slashed and nurses started leaving.

The nurse said shortages are widespread across Auckland’s isolation hotels.

“I would describe them as being critically low and dangerous,” she said.

She added those on the job are sometimes asked to work extra hours.

“It can amount to 20 hours straight, which is very unsafe.” . . .

The DHB, Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield and Minister in charge of MIQ Megan Woods all say there is no problem.

Health workers said they had insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). Officials and politicians said they were wrong but there were right.

Health workers said there was a shortage of flu vaccines. Officials and politicians said there wasn’t but there was.

Now nurses are saying there are staff shortages and unsafe working hours. Officials and politicians say they’re wrong.

Who do you believe?


Step Up stepped up

11/10/2020

When our daughter was diagnosed with low grade serous ovarian cancer and told her likely life expectancy was five to 15 years, I told her I’d do anything I could to support her.

Two Fridays ago that meant walking 30+ kilometres as part of her Step Up challenge for Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month.

Most of those 46,483 steps were along the shore of Lake Wanaka on the Millennium Track, which passes the much-photographed Wanaka Tree.

An hour or so further on I added some height to the challenge, climbing Ironside Hill.

 

Although I did it by myself I wasn’t alone in accepting the challenge.

Jane and a friend climbed Roy’s Peak, overlooking Lake Wanaka.

Others stepped up in Australia (one of which was five mountains in a day with a jig at the top of each); in Canada (a bike ride  across Quebec) in the UK and in the USA.

If you would like to help fund lifesaving research which is the only hope for too many women, most in the their 20s and 30s, who get the diagnosis Jane did, you can do it here.

 


Rural round-up

05/10/2020

Stop making decisions for farmers – Peter Buckley:

From my observations of general media reporting it seems that in today’s world no one wants to take responsibility for their actions.

And more often than not they seek to blame others for the results of their actions. This is the case for private persons, government and their departments, councils and social organisations in a large portion of reports.

The majority seem to want someone else to take responsibility for their actions or lack of action. Some in government want even more control because they believe the government can fix things through legislation.

The problem with the government growing bigger, passing more legislation (much of it being a form of social engineering) and enforcing that legislation is that it takes responsibility away from the people who should hold that responsibility. . . 

Vet’s best work stories Told in new book – Catherine Groenestein:

A Taranaki vet has documented 30 years’ working with cattle in a hefty 1.5kg book that’s part instruction manual, part work stories.

Hāwera vet Cathy Thompson always carried a camera in her kit and took photos of many of the interesting animals she dealt with on farms.

Since retiring in 2017, she has used many of them in two books.

“The first one was a practical guide for cattle vets, but I thought it should be made available for farmers too, so I rewrote it,” she said. . .

Potential second drought shows importance of dams in Northland, trust says – Denise Piper:

The potential for a second drought in Northland shows the vital importance of large-scale dams, according to Te Tai Tokerau Water Trust.

The trust was formed this year to help progress water storage projects, helped along with $70 million in Provincial Growth Funding.

Work is expected to start this month on a 750,000 cubic metre reservoir near Kaikohe – one of the towns so severely impacted by drought there was a real risk taps could run dry in February.

However, the reservoir will not be ready for use until the first half of 2021. . .

Meet the farming couple breeding leeches for New Zealand hospitals :

Maria Lupton has New Zealand’s only leech farm, with tens of thousands of the parasites in tanks on her Waikato property.

If it’s a nice fine spring weekend, then Maria and Robert Lupton know they’ll probably get a call from a hospital asking for their leeches.

The Waikato couple owns a leech farm supplying hospitals throughout the country to help in surgery to restore blood flow to severed fingers or for restorative surgery after cancer treatments.

“Men and skill saws are very good for business,” Maria says. . . 

B+LNZ and OSPRI to improve sheep traceability with electronic ASDs:

Introductions of pests and diseases onto farms can be devastating for businesses and rural communities.

COVID-19 and the response to Mycoplasma bovis has underscored the importance of tracing to find, contain and control infectious diseases.

For sheep, mob-based tracing is an efficient and effective method.  For a number of years, B+LNZ has been seeking to improve the traceability of mobs of sheep.

Current tracing of movements of sheep relies on Animal Status Declarations (ASDs). These are paper-based, which limits investigators’ ability to trace a rapidly moving disease because they must follow the ‘paper trail’. . . 

 

Coronavirus leads to food industry crisis in Europe – Gavin Lee:

Across Europe, much of the food and agriculture industry has been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Half of the fishermen in the Netherlands have stopped going out to sea. That’s because the price of fresh fish has plummeted due to a lack of demand.

In France, 1,500 tonnes of high quality cheese went off last week, because farmers can’t sell it.

And many of the warehouses that store fresh food across Europe are now reaching capacity.

BBC Europe correspondent Gavin Lee takes a look at the impact. . .


The only piece I will ever proffer is to share the pain

24/09/2020

Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller tells his story for Mental Health Awareness Week:

Mental health challenges had always been other people’s issues. Being an MP introduced me to some of the challenging journeys that many in our community live, but I was fine, I never had an issue previously even when life and jobs had thrown me curveballs.

Then on the evening of May 27, while being driven back home from Auckland to Tauranga, I had a panic attack for the first time in my life. Sure, it had been a rough couple of days of media criticism, but I was heading home and had finished a couple of great conversations with mentors and supporters. I was looking forward to seeing my wife and kids before a day out in my electorate.

It started with an intense prickling sensation in my head, followed by what I would describe as “waves” of anxiety. I had never experienced these sensations before, despite having lived through some very high-pressured moments at Fonterra dealing with global food safety scares.

I tried to stem these sensations of dread by taking as many deep breaths as possible and forcing my mind to focus on something else, anything else. I managed to hold it together until I walked into my wife’s arms and broke down in a very deep and painful way.

As Michelle did many times over the subsequent 50 days, she comforted me, soothed these feelings of wretchedness with unconditional love and positivity. I awoke the next morning tired, but excited for the day that lay ahead.

The next weekend it came back again, this time with even more ferocity. Night sweats, a deep sensation of anxiety and nausea, shortness of breath and the ongoing prickly buzz and sense of tightening pressure in my head. That attack lasted 15 minutes, but the tightening pressure on my head stayed with me until the end. . . 

. . . In the end, the frequency and intensity of the panic attacks took me to a place where I had to step away from the fire, the anxiety and the pain.

I am now a few months on, and with the love of family, friends, and support from a specialist, I am recovering well.

I have had no panic attacks and the pressure in my head has abated, although it will take time to fully heal. I love my job as MP for Bay of Plenty and am really enjoying being back out connecting with the people I seek to serve.

I have been inundated with goodwill, humbled by random people congratulating me on my courage and in some cases asking for advice.

The recognition is not due, for while at the end I did walk away, I could. The greater courage is in those who deal with it even when it is harder to walk away.

In terms of advice, the only piece I will ever proffer is to share the pain.

Sharing personal experience like this helps remove the stigma that too often surrounds mental health issues and prevents people from seeking help.

Being open like this will help others who are dealing with similar problems and help those who aren’t, understand better those who are.

You can learn more about Mental Health Awareness Week here.

 


Rural round-up

22/09/2020

Water and labeling high on hort sector’s election wish-list – David Anderson:

New Zealand’s horticulture industry has set out its wishes for the upcoming election campaign, covering water, climate change, country of origin labelling and labour issues.

Industry body Hort NZ is asking that any future government ensures the horticulture sector can develop “within a supportive framework that enables sustainable growth”.

It says the sector currently contributes more than $6 billion to NZ’s economy, is the country’s third largest export industry and employs approximately 60,000 people.

“What horticulture needs in order to continue its success in producing fresh and healthy food for New Zealand and export markets is quite simple.” . . 

Rural environment grows ideas just fine – Mary-Jo Tohill:

Two years ago when he was playing for the Southland Sharks, Clinton man Lydon Aoake struggled to stay motivated.

The now 30-year-old was in the team that took out the 2018 New Zealand Basketball League. That year he juggled training, a full-time job at Danone Nutricia, and fatherhood.

“When I was working out trying to get fit for the Sharks, I wanted to get a personal trainer, but Clinton was pretty rural,” Mr Aoake said.

“So I had a little bit of a fitness background, I knew what I needed to do — it was just the PT motivation that I wanted.” . . 

Fonterra’s dividend – my five cents – Elbow Deep:

It has been quite the year for Fonterra, the co-operative not only won unanimous parliamentary support for the changes they sought to the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act, they also returned to profit after last year’s first ever financial loss. That profit, a stunning $1.3 billion turnaround from the previous season, saw Fonterra pay suppliers their fourth highest payout in the Co-op’s history; $7.14 per kg of milksolids and a 5c dividend on shares.

As dairy farmers we have been pretty well insulated from the worst financial effects of the pandemic, it has been business as usual thanks largely to Fonterra’s ability to navigate the strict requirements of operating under various levels of lockdown and to quickly react to changes in demand caused by Covid-19.

It struck me as curiously ungrateful, then, that the first response I saw on social media to Fonterra’s excellent result was a complaint the dividend was too low. This, it turns out, was not an isolated expression of that sentiment. . . 

Fonterra stabilises finances with back to basics model, selling assets and retaining profits – Keith Woodford:

Fonterra has stabilised its finances with more asset sales forthcoming. It now operates a conservative model supported by its farmer members. But the model will not create the ‘national champion’ that the Labour Government has always hoped for

Fonterra’s annual results announced in 18 September for the year ending 31 July 2020 indicate that Fonterra has made good progress in stabilising its financial position. A key outcome is a reduction in interest-bearing debt by $1.1 billion, now down to $ 4.7 billion. This has been brought about through asset sales and retained profits.

Chief Financial Officer Marc Rivers told a media conference immediately after release of the results that further debt reductions were desired.  The key measure that Fonterra is now using for debt is the multiple of debt to EBITDA, which now stands at 3.4. The desired level in the newly conservative Fonterra is between 2.5 and 3. . . 

Self-shedding sheep study:

Massey University is examining the economic impact and the production consequences of crossbreeding with Wiltshire sheep to a fully shedding flock.

Coarse wool sheep farmers are struggling with the cost of shearing in relation to the value of the wool clip. Many are considering if changing to a self-shedding flock, such as a Wiltshire, is a better way forward.

However, the cost of purchasing purebred Wiltshires – and the limited numbers available – means this is not a viable option for many. However, there are examples of farmers successfully grading up to Wiltshires by continual crossing.

But there is a general lack of accurate recorded information on the costs, benefit and pitfalls from doing so. . . 

Plug pulled on 2021 Marlborough Wine and Food Festival – Tracy Neal:

Organisers of next February’s Marlborough Wine & Food Festival have pulled the plug early.

It is the first time in the event’s 36-year history it has been cancelled, but the potential lingering challenges over Covid-19 posed too much risk.

Marlborough Winegrowers Board Chair Tom Trolove said it had been a really tough decision that would impact businesses in our community.

“But the board was clear that in these unprecedented times, it had to prioritise the safety of the harvest. . . 


If they couldn’t deliver BC . . .

22/09/2020

David Farrar posts on Labour’s term of failure:

 . . . Isn’t this telling in terms of the Government’s incompetence. We are not talking about narrowly missing a few targets. On almost every major area they have either missed it by a mile, or actually gone backwards.

Auckland is still at level 2.5 and will move only to level 2 tomorrow.

The wage subsidy masked unemployment but now that’s ended unemployment and business failures will accelerate; and we’re facing decades of deficits.

If a Labour-led government  couldn’t deliver BC –  before Covid-19 – we can’t trust them to deliver now.

 


Step Up & sign to save lives

21/09/2020

 When you are living on limited time there is a really strong urge to look inwards and just focus on yourself. . . .But the more I learnt about my cancer, the more I realised I couldn’t do nothing. The treatment I take belongs to a class of drugs approved for breast cancer 43 years ago. For forty years it was sitting on a shelf but no one knew it could help women with my cancer because the research wasn’t funded. This isn’t just about me, though yes I really want more time because I don’t have enough. But it’s also about the women who aren’t here to use their voices, and the women who will sit in that doctors office in ten, and fifty years time. And whether they get told you’ll likely die, and I know how awful that is to hear, or if their doctor will be able say we can get you through this. I can’t do this on my own but together we can

These were my daughter’s words in conversation with Jim Mora yesterday.

 

Jane has low grade serous ovarian cancer.

She was told, when she was diagnosed, that her likely life expectancy was five to 15 years.

That was three and a half years ago.  A young woman diagnosed at a similar time with a similar stage of the disease died earlier this year.

Given her prognosis, Jane could be focusing only on herself. Instead she’s fighting not just for herself but for all the other women who have, or will get, this dreadful disease.

You can help her by signing the petition.

It is non-partisan. This isn’t about politics, it’s about women’s health and lives. The four gynaecological cancer organisations behind it have worked across parliament to get cross-party support.

You don’t have to be in New Zealand, or be a New Zealander to sign.

The other way to help is by donating to Cure Our Ovarian Cancer.

To mark Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, Jane has launched a Step Up challenge.

I’ve joined it and will be walking the Millenium Track from Wanaka to Glendhu Bay and back (it took about six hours last time I did it).  You can donate here  .

If you want to go further, you can join the campaign and Step Up yourself.

A Canadian is cycling 1000km, a kiwi is climbing a small mountain, an Australian is running his own race for an hour – as far as he can go, a woman from the UK is going for an 8000 step stroll, and an American is dedicating her birthday. It’s completely up to you.

But if you’re stuck for ideas:

  1. Choose an activity – walk, run, cycle (or something else!)
  2. Measure your activity – in time, or steps or distance or destination
  3. Decide if you’re going to do it one day, some days or every day in September
  4. And remember – it’s not what you do, but why that matters the most. You’ll be helping fund crucial research to help women live longer.

You can also follow Cure Our Ovarian Cancer on Facebook and  Twitte and Instagram.

Jane’s personal blog is janehascancer.com

You can catch up with her in the media here.

I wrote about living under the cancer sword here.


When they don’t learn from mistakes . . .

18/09/2020

New Zealand is in recession for the first time in 11 years.

Gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 12.2 percent in the June 2020 quarter, the largest quarterly fall recorded since the current series began in 1987, as the COVID-19 restrictions in place through the quarter impacted economic activity, Stats NZ said today.

“The 12.2 percent fall in quarterly GDP is by far the largest on record in New Zealand,” national accounts senior manager Paul Pascoe said.

There’s no surprise about being in recession when the country was locked up  down for weeks., but how did we compare with other countries:

Measures to contain COVID-19 have led to historically large falls in GDP in many parts of the world, with countries’ results reflecting the nature and timing of their responses, and the structure of their economies. For example, New Zealand’s result compares to falls of 7.0 percent in Australia, 11.5 percent in Canada, 7.9 percent in Japan, 20.4 percent in the United Kingdom, and 9.1 percent in the United States. . . 

New Zealand did worse than all of those countries except the UK, including our nearest neighbour which had a less harsh lockdown and, the debacle in Victoria excepted,  similar health outcomes; and our performance was worse than the OECD average.

Contrary to the government’s line of going early and hard, it was lax, late and harsh.

We should have locked down sooner, been much rigorous about returnees from overseas self-isolating and introduced MIQ sooner then used safe rather than the arbitrary essential  when determining which businesses could operate during lockdown.

That could have been excused the first time had the government learned from its mistakes, but it repeated them and made more when it locked Auckland down again.

Businesses and greengrocers weren’t allowed to open and there was an omnishambles at the region’s borders with staff not able to get to work. That was compounded by animal welfare issues when farmers couldn’t get into Auckland to look after their stock and millions of bees died when beekeepers couldn’t get to their hives.

The economy isn’t just about money, it’s about businesses, jobs, livelihoods and lives and both physical and mental health.

The government admits that health and the economy are linked but, as in so many other instances in the past three years, its actions haven’t followed its words.

Worse given there is a very real risk that there will be other leaks at the border it hasn’t learned from its mistakes and, should it be re-elected, there is a very real risk it will repeat them.


Nat plan to fight gynaecological cancers

09/09/2020

National has announced a policy to address late diagnosis and poor survival rates for women with gynaecological cancers:

National is pledging $20 million to protect women from gynaecological cancer through greater awareness, improved clinical guidelines, increased testing and greater access to clinical trials, National Party Leader Judith Collins and National’s spokesperson for Rural Communities and Women Barbara Kuriger say.

Every year in New Zealand more than 1000 women are diagnosed with, and over 475 die, from gynaecological cancer.

This investment is alongside National’s commitment to fund an independent Cancer Agency and set up a $200 million fund dedicated to cancer drugs.

“As an ambassador for the New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation this has special significance to me. Too many women are going untested and undiagnosed at the moment,” Ms Collins says.

“The sad reality is that most New Zealand families will be affected by cancer. Cancer doesn’t discriminate when it chooses its victims and people shouldn’t have reduced access to treatment just because they live in the country.

“The signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancer are difficult to determine so we will be promoting even greater awareness so women can get themselves diagnosed as soon as possible. National will provide a funding boost to awareness campaigns to ensure this happens.

“We will work with health professionals to maintain up-to-date clinical guidelines that give them the resources to identify gynaecological cancer earlier and make the best decisions around diagnosis and referring women for testing.”

This is just the first announcement in our strong plan to provide better health outcomes for rural communities,” Ms Kuriger says.

“Farming is a stressful and sometimes isolating profession. It can be all too easy to neglect your personal health needs when you’re running a farm, so we want to make care easy and accessible.

“The increased awareness and improved clinical guidelines will lead to more women being tested, and we will provide increased funding to ensure every woman in New Zealand who needs a test is given one.

“National is focused on providing better outcomes closer to home for Kiwi families and communities. This funding will save lives and ensure New Zealand women are getting the care they deserve.”

The Q&A on gynaecological cancers says:

How many women are diagnosed with Gynaecological cancer at the moment?
• Currently, around 1,000 women a year are diagnosed with one of the five gynaecological cancers each year in New Zealand.
How many women die from Gynaecological cancer at the moment?
• Currently, around 475 women are lost to gynaecological cancer each year in New Zealand.
How many more tests are needed?
• Because too many women aren’t aware of the symptoms of gynaecological cancer, and so aren’t presenting for tests, we simply don’t know the size of the unmet need. That’s why our first priority is to increase awareness.
• The funding provided will ensure that the additional demand for tests can be met. If more women are getting tested, and diagnosed earlier, then we will consider this policy a success.
Is this enough?
• It’s not about the amount of money, it’s about spending it right. We know that the evidence says that awareness is an issue and so that’s the issue we want to address.
What kind of tests will be funded?
• There are five different kinds of gynaecological cancer and there are various different tests that can be used for diagnosis. For ovarian cancer this includes ultrasound and the CA-125 blood test.
• We don’t want to pre-empt the development of updated clinical guidelines by determining what kinds of tests are needed, or how many more women will be receiving them, but we do want to ensure that every woman has timely access to the tests they need.
How many more women will be tested as a result of this?
• It’s hard to say because the issue is that too many women are going untested and undiagnosed at the moment.
• The important thing is that women are aware of the symptoms of gynaecological cancer, that they are consulting their GPs in a timely manner, and that where appropriate GPs are referring women for testing.
• National will ensure that the money for increased testing is available, as this is ultimately about saving lives.

Full details are here.

My daughter has low grade serous ovarian cancer, a rare form of the disease which is frequently incurable.

She had been to doctors for two years with symptoms before she was diagnosed.

Her story is far too common because too many women don’t know the symptoms, it’s difficult to diagnose and like four of the five different gynaecological cancers and only cervical cancer it can’t be detected by a smear.

This policy will improve awareness, educate health professionals, increase testing and access to clinical trials.

Six New Zealand women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each week and four New Zealand women die of the disease each week.

Unlike breast cancer which has much better survival rates, the prognosis for women with ovarian cancer hasn’t improved in decades.

One reason for that is that women with ovarian cancer are often diagnosed late and are too ill, or don’t survive, to advocate.

That isn’t an argument to reduce funding for breast cancer initiatives. It is a reason to put a much greater effort into raising awareness, testing and improving access to clinical trials, which this policy aims to do so that women with ovarian, and other gynaecological cancers have the much better chance of survival that women with breast cancer do.


The story behind the billboard

08/09/2020

The Spinoff’s profile of Sean Topham and Ben Guerin, the principals of the very successful digital marketing company that carries their names, mentions work on ovarian cancer awareness on the biggest billboard in Times Square.

Newshub tells the story behind that billboard:

A Dunedin woman has scored a huge win to promote her cancer charity in New York.

Jane Ludemann, 32, has secured a free billboard in Times Square to mark World Ovarian Cancer Day. The giant advert is longer than a football field and calls for more funding and research for the disease. . . 

Kiwi creative agency Topham Guerin also helped out, designing an advert with a simple message alongside calls for more funding and research. . . 

The ODT also covered the story.

If you missed my post on Jane and living under the cancer sword you’ll find it here.


Better health beats another holiday

08/09/2020

The country is still stuttering along at lockdown 2 (or 2.5 in Auckland).

The government is borrowing every cent it’s spending.

The country, and the world is facing the worst economic crisis in decades and yesterday we got a contrast in priorities from National and Labour.

National launched a policy taking a health approach to the meth pandemic:

National has outlined an integrated and comprehensive plan to tackle the issues caused by methamphetamine use. Our Plan will deliver a response work programme, unifying resources from Justice, Health, Police and Customs.

National’s plan tackles the harm of methamphetamine use, restoring hope to people trapped in cycles of drug dependence and challenging those who peddle misery in our communities.

The use of this drug tears families apart, fuels violence, enriches criminals and destroys lives. We cannot tolerate the continued misery this drug causes, which leads to rising levels of violence and poverty, and widespread social harm.

Methamphetamine is the most commonly detected illicit drug nationwide. Social agencies identify it as a significant factor in domestic and family violence.

There is no single solution to what has become a scourge on our society. A National government will tackle this problem from all angles, addressing both demand and supply.

National Plan to tackle demand will:

  • Deploy the Matrix Methamphetamine Treatment Pilot Programme across District Health Boards to provide direct support to those recovering from methamphetamine use.
  • Add 13 detox bed for methamphetamine across New Zealand, ensuring every District Health Board has at least one.
  • Ensure at least one methamphetamine specialist per District Health Board is available to assist with in-patient detoxing from methamphetamine.
  • Establish a contestable fund of $50 million to pilot new or scaled-up whole-community harm reduction programmes.
  • Establish best practices for frontline police to refer meth users to DHBs, Ministry of Social Development, education resources and community-based support.

National will reduce demand by improving the health response and providing treatment options that are not available today.

There must also be a strong response from our law and order agencies to disrupt those trying to bring meth into the country.

We will build capacity to interdict the international crime cartels that are bringing this problem to our shores. Good intelligence and international co-operation will be a priority under National.

There can be no tolerance for the dealing and supply of methamphetamine. Those who peddle this drug are responsible for the misery and social harm it causes.

National’s Plan to tackle supply will:

  • Increase funding for drug intelligence to enable Customs, Police and health authorities to identify drugs coming into the country.
  • Increase funding for Police and Health to identify new drugs and bad batches sooner.
  • Introduce more drug dogs at airports and ports.
  • Identify a new supply disruption strategy to reduce methamphetamine use in Corrections facilities.
  • Target domestic organised crime networks with extra focus and resourcing from Police.

National has a strong track-record of fighting the meth scourge. The Methamphetamine Action Plan we introduced saw increased seizures of methamphetamine and a 59 per cent reduction in use as a proportion of the population, between 2009 and 2015.

Labour rescinded National’s refreshed Action Plan in 2018 in favour of an ad-hoc, piecemeal approach to drug harm.

We will re-establish the social investment approach across the justice system, making sure the impacts of crime are addressed, as well as the causes of it.

New Zealand needs a co-ordinated and effective response to the methamphetamine problem.

With this Plan, National will deliver one.

You can read National’s Tackling Methamphetamine Policy Factsheet here.

This is a positive policy that takes a health approach to addicts and a cross agency approach to the people who peddle the drug.

And what’s Labour’s priority?

Another public holiday:

New Zealand is in the biggest economic crisis in a generation and Labour’s answer to this is another public holiday, National’s Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.

“At a time when the economy is shrinking and we are losing jobs, it’s tone deaf for Labour’s second policy announcement to be an additional public holiday.

“More and more New Zealanders want to celebrate Matariki, but if it is to take the form of a public holiday it should replace an existing one.

I like the idea of a holiday to celebrate Matariki. Mid winter is a much better time for fireworks than GUy Fawkes (which isn’t a holiday) or New Year. But my support is for it to replace an existing one not as an extra one.

“Businesses up and down the country are under colossal pressure right now, they’re the ones who will have to pay for another public holiday.

“It’s a pity that Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern has shown zero empathy for the tens of thousands of New Zealanders who are struggling right now to keep their businesses afloat and employ Kiwis.

“A new public holiday won’t mean much to the tens of thousands of families who are now on the unemployment benefit.

“The absolute focus should be on saving jobs and creating new ones, but we’re not seeing that from Labour.”

The Taxpayers’ Union describes it as another tax on employers:

An additional public holiday is a blatant tax on employers, who will be forced to pay workers for a day off. It will also reduce overall productivity, which means a smaller economy and fewer jobs. An economic recession is the worst time to introduce this kind of regulatory tax.”

“If the intention is to acknowledge the cultural significance of Matariki, there’s an opportunity for a middle road: introduce the new holiday, but scrap Labour Day, an obsolete hangover from international Marxism that most New Zealanders just consider to be a day off.”

The concept of an International Workers’ Day (also known as Labour Day) began its spread after a resolution by the Marxist International Socialist Congress in Paris, 1889.

The EMA is unimpressed:

The EMA says the Government’s announcement today of an extra public holiday for Matariki from 2022 is unlikely to find favour with its business members.

Chief Executive Brett O’Riley says it will be seen as another cost to business and is unlikely to support increased tourism, which was the original argument for an extra public holiday during COVID-19 Alert Levels 1 and 2.

Some tourism businesses already close on public holidays because any increase in customers doesn’t cover the extra cost of wages and time off in lieu for staff who work on those days.

Mr O’Riley says the Government priority should be focused on fixing the dysfunctional Holidays Act.

“We need to see a simplified and streamlined process for calculating entitlements and creating efficiencies for business.”

“We understand the cultural argument about Matariki being considered important enough for a public holiday, but it could have been exchanged with one of the other public holidays,” he says. 

Heather du Plessis-Allan likes the idea but not the timing:

. . . Labour seem completely tone-deaf on this.

At a time when government should be reducing as many burdens on business as possible… they’re doing the opposite.

In this term alone they’ve increased maternity leave to 26 weeks, domestic abuse leave to two weeks, upped the minimum wage by 20 per cent, scrapped 90-day trials, regulated when employees must take breaks, are apparently considering doubling sick leave to two weeks and now this.

All in all that is a huge amount of regulation and cost added to businesses who are fighting for their survival right now.

It makes it slightly better than the policy is deferred to mid-2022. But, in truth, businesses will still be struggling then. ASB today projected it won’t enter recovery mode until 2023.

You have to wonder also at the priorities here. If this is the policy to kick off the campaign property you have to wonder whether Labour either doesn’t appreciate what’s headed our way or just knows it can get away with it while voters live in a fantasy land of sugar money propping up the economy.

This is a great idea, but it’s a great idea for another time. Right now, we have bigger problems than the need for another public holiday. 

We already have four weeks’ annual leave and 11 statutory holidays.

If ever we could afford another day off it isn’t now.

The contrast between the two policies couldn’t be starker – National’s will tackle a very real problem, Labour ignores the problems we’re facing.


5-point plan for better Covid response

07/09/2020

It’s taken six months for the government to make it mandatory for border staff to have regular tests for Covid-19.

The Government will require all border workers to take regular Covid-19 tests, or face a stiff fine, with a new order coming into effect at midnight on Sunday.

The order covers workers at air and maritime borders, as well as managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

Refusing a test without “a reasonable excuse” makes such workers liable for fines of between $300 and $1000.

Healthcare workers are able to allow people to not get tested if they believe it would be inappropriate. . . 

Six months is a long time to do what ought to be done. It belies the government’s hard and early line.

The government has finally got where it should have been months ago but there is still room for improvement in other areas.

It shouldn’t take six months to act on that because National’s Health spokesman Dr Shane Reti has helpfully come up with a five-point plan for a better Covid response:

National has identified five ways in which the Government could immediately improve our response to Covid-19, National’s Health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti says.

“Labour’s failures at the border have brought on another wave of Covid-19, the consequences of which are costing New Zealanders jobs, businesses and livelihoods.

“National has developed a detailed border plan that will keep the virus at bay while allowing our economy to thrive. New Zealanders deserve this rather than the ad-hoc system that is currently in place.

“As well as this improved border plan, there are five practical steps the Government could be taking right now to keep New Zealanders safe:

  1. Re-test people for genomics within 24 hours of every positive case. Currently only 50 percent of samples have been genomically sequenced. Increasing this would help us identify linkages and the heritage of the virus.
  2. Require a negative Covid-19 test turn-around time of 48 hours. People have been using up all of their sick leave waiting days for negative results. It is important positive tests continue to be the priority and reported in 24 hours. But negative tests should be tightened up with a measurable target of 80 percent of negative tests reported in 48 hours.
  3. Require people who have been declined tests to be recorded in the National Contact Tracing Solution. It is important we have this information because we may have people who turn up for testing who’ve failed the case definition, but subsequently test positive. And if we know who they are then we can improve the case definition.
  4. Make day-three managed isolation testing compulsory. The sooner we identify positive cases who have crossed our border, the more effective and safe our response is.
  5. Improve the Covid-19 app so that it can display information as well. Currently the app can pull location information from what is being scanned, but it would be more effective if it could also share user information. This would make the contact tracing system much more efficient and effective as people could be identified quickly.

“We’re in the middle of a second spike of Covid-19 and we need to move quickly. I encourage the Government to consider these five proposals to raise our collective bar and protect us all.”

All of these look sensible and none appear to be difficult to implement.

The government should be open to all good ideas to improve the Covid response.

It must not let politics get in the way of constructive suggestions just because they come from the National Party and it must act a lot faster on these improvements than it did on mandatory testing for border staff.


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