April 24, 2003
Die Zeit, Nbr. 18

Ulla Schmidt scoffs at medical science

Those who have to budget their medical expenses should consider preventive programs that are scientifically based and financially sound, while avoiding traditional quacks. The opposite is currently happening. The new Positivlist is supposed to take effect in July "to improve long-term quality and economy of medical care," as asserted by federal health minister Ulla Schmidt. Yet the catalog makes a mockery of science. Items on its list of effective and economical medicinal aids include dozens of absurd cures, like pig testicles and beef sphincters. Thousands of medical professionals have protested, in vain.

Just as pointlessly are the fading demands from the medical sector for better prevention. [Examples are given of how Spina bifida and neural tube defects costs more than 400 million a year in Germany, while the USA, Canada and other countries add folic acid to flour as a preventive measure.]

The treatment for iodine deficiency is similar, in that it costs a billion euro annually, yet can be prevented by taking iodine salt.

The community at large, however, is that one that bears the cost of inadequate prevention. How many women are aware that they should have more folic acid prior to conception? Neural tube defects originate in within the first four weeks of pregnancy.

Prevention presumes knowledge. If the feds will not put prevention into effect, then they should better inform the public about the health risks involved. They fail miserably there, too. A typical example of this is the strong increase in the number of teen smokers. Smoking pleasure also harms foetuses, yet two-thirds of women smokers puff away in pregnancy. Dozens of expert associations have appealed to the federal government to take stronger steps against the risks of tobacco usage, resulting in many promises from Berlin, but little action. It's unpopular for the state to prescribe reason.

Having the state pay for alternative medicine brings in millions of votes. What do a few thousand outraged experts matter?

Hans Schuh