Tanya Melillo recently informed us that one fourth of those entitled to get the annual flu jab for free did not do so. Dr Melillo is quite correct to be alarmed as she is the chairman of the national influenza pandemic standing committee. With all the panic about the onslaught of bird flu some months ago, I am indeed surprised and shocked that people can still take the outbreak of a serious epidemic so lightly. Although we were told that the normal flu jab does not prevent our catching bird flu if and when it mutates into a disease transmitted from human to human, the control of the annual scourge of normal flu could easily prevent such an epidemic from being as tragically fatal as it is feared.

Meanwhile the first human cases of bird flu have been diagnosed in Turkey. Siblings Mehmet Ali and Fatma Kocyigit both got the strain and succumbed to it. It is still unclear whether Fatma caught the flu from her brother. If so the cat is out of the bag and we may expect the deadly virus to spread like wildfire.

While on the subject of epidemics I am constantly stupefied that the Ministry of Health has not remarked upon the inexorable increase of cancer in Malta. If one stops to think about it for a few minutes and writes down on a piece of paper all those people whom one either knows or is related to who have either died of cancer or are at present fighting it, the list would be staggering.

Although we may not, if we are lucky, die of bird flu, it seems far likelier we will almost certainly die of cancer. The only active preventive that the government has enforced is the dire warnings on cigarette packets. Meanwhile, smokers and non-smokers are struck down with equal virulence. The cancer strain in Malta must be caused by something other than cigarettes, not that they help, of course, but they are not the primary cause.

I feel I need hardly point out the frequency with which the toxic stink of Mount Maghtab reaches residential areas like Sliema and St Julians. The emissions from Marsa and the St Luke's Hospital chimney may be equally pernicious while my own theory is that the Maltese race is slowly but inexorably being poisoned by the centuries of lead deposits in our soil, deposits of lead pellets that have lain in our fields since hunting became the national delizju (pastime).

Many years ago when still a nipper of a cub in Lascaris Group we were taken camping for four days over Easter week. It used to be a great thrill to be sitting under the marquee and listening to the sporadic tattoo of lead pellets hitting the canvas. Lead is a killer. I was once told that Maltese bread was always so tasty because of all the lead paint that was burnt in our ovens. Maybe that is why our vegetables and fruit are so tasty too! Be that as it may, air pollution caused by Maghtab, the power stations and car emissions will continue to poison us as effectively as smoking at least four packs of cigarettes a day. Couple that with the contaminated food we are eating with goodness knows what pesticides to season it further and the mind boggles that any of us are left alive to tell the tale.

While the Prime Minister pats himself and his party on the back for scraping through 2005, people are dying. No move has been made to ensure cleaner air except to report emitters via SMS. A walk along the Sliema Front will tell you how effective or not the campaign has been.

We are paying an arm and a leg to keep ourselves warm because of the world fuel crisis without not one murmur from the environment gurus about the harnessing of sun and wind energy which not only is free and ultra-abundant in Malta but far cleaner and healthier. I would rather line Dingli Cliffs with huge windmills than die a horrible long drawn out death by chemotherapy. I would rather have the roof of each and every house in Malta and Gozo equipped with solar panels, no matter how unsightly, rather than depend on a resource that is subject to the caprices of the warlords and which is used as political weapons. Look what happened last week when Russia suspended its gas supply to the Ukraine!

Wind and sun have been given to us by the Creator along with gas and oil, however, in the case of the latter the plutocrats who control it will never allow for the harnessing of a free resource unless they have a hand in it too. That is how the rich stay rich. Meanwhile till this sorts itself out, if ever, we are afflicted more and more with cancer of this and cancer of that; secondaries and tertiaries, tumours and polyps. Operations that remove affected organs bit by bit.

There has been a ray of hope in all this. A new drug called Avastin, which a brave young mother of three, Hayley Newbery, has single-handedly forced the NHS to give her. The drug costs £50,000. Because of the drug, Mrs Newbery's primary bowel and secondary liver cancer have now been pronounced as no longer terminal as her tumours have been reduced by 40 per cent after the initial dose.

It has always been a great mystery to me why any drug should cost so much especially when it saves lives. It appears that not only is the world being controlled by the oil companies but also the drug companies that withhold life-saving drugs like Avastin by slapping such an exorbitant price on it.

One would presume that the Malta Ministry of Health is already negotiating the purchase of Avastin in steady supply such is the high incidence of cancer in Malta. While it gnaws away at our population, affecting not only the victims but their entire families, do not the ministry gurus see that it is far more cost-effective to administer this drug in the short term than comparatively ineffective ones in the long term? Is it not obvious that cancer is causing great economic disruption in our small community?

Although Avastin and drugs like it may be the short-term solution, the cleaning up of our land, sea and air is the long term one. We must ensure that Malta is a safer and healthier place in future, if not for ourselves, for our children and grandchildren.

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