eCMAJ NewsDesk:
Delve deeper into environmental illness, defence minister begs
Date: May 23, 2001   Time: 2:37 pm

Canada's defence minister used an appearance at a recent meeting to "implore" scientists and physicians to "think outside the box" in attempting to recognize and treat environmental illnesses.

Art Eggleton made an unscheduled speech at an international conference on environmental illness held in Ottawa May 18, shortly after he returned from a 2-day Canadian Forces Health Service symposium on chemical sensitivity.

Eggleton, who noted that the Canadian Forces is currently grappling with medical problems faced by personnel who served in the Gulf War 10 years ago, said the root of the problem is that the scientific community says the  existence of multiple chemical sensitivity cannot be proved, and therefore the medical community doesn't want to recognize it.

"It leaves people like me in a difficult situation. I want to try to right this situation and help these [soldiers] in terms of medical services and pensions," he said. "There's got to be an openness on the part of caregivers to deal with these patients. I implore you to think outside the box."

Eggleton acknowledged that many Gulf War personnel are experiencing both psychological and physical problems. "I've seen some of our people who left healthy and strong and came back a broken shadow of themselves, with considerable challenges as a result of the illness they have experienced."

Sponsored by the 5-year-old Environmental Illness Society of Canada and the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary, the conference was designed to "support physicians."

- Barbara Sibbald, eCMAJ