Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be with you this morning to officially open the Alpha One Suite here in Beaumont Hospital. I would like to thank the Chairman of the Alpha One Foundation, Professor Gerry McElvaney, and the Chief Executive of the Foundation, Mr Larry Warren, for their kind invitation and the opportunity to speak to you.
As you know Alpha-1 Antitrypsin (anti-trip-sin) Deficiency is one of the most common life threatening hereditary disorders in the world today and has been identified in virtually all populations. An estimated 200,000 people in Ireland carry a single deficient gene that causes Alpha-1. An estimated 1,000 people suffer from the condition but fewer than 100 of these are correctly diagnosed.
The most common expression of Alpha-1 is fatal lung disease, as the condition predisposes people to emphysema and lung deterioration. Cigarette smoke aggravates the problem, and the majority of patients who eventually present with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Obstruction and are diagnosed as having Alpha-1 have a history of cigarette smoking, which is estimated to shorten the life span by up to 20 years.
Early diagnosis of Alpha-1, leading to early cessation of smoking, significantly improves the quality of life and life expectancy for this group, and I understand from Professor McElvaney that, as a group, those who become aware of their condition are extremely compliant in relation to giving up smoking.
Clearly, early detection of the condition can make a huge difference for patients. Because of this, the World Health Organisation has endorsed a targeted detection programme for Alpha-1 deficiency, testing all individuals with chronic obstructive lung disease and I am delighted to say that Ireland is to the fore in this field with the commencement of the world´s second programme, the first having started the United States, with financial backing from my Department.
The method of diagnosis is simple, with Alpha-1 levels being measured from a blood sample. Over 21 hospitals are participating in this programme and it is envisaged that a total of 25,000 people will be tested over the next 5 years. Evaluation of these tests will be carried out at this new facility which is being opened today. My Department is pleased to be associated with such a pioneering venture.
The Alpha-1 Targeted Detection Programme is a major and important element of the National Lung Transplant Programme from which its funding is derived. The purpose of the Targeted Detection Programme is to detect, identify and treat as many people in Ireland as possible who suffer from Alpha-1, the most common expression of which is fatal lung disease. Identification and treatment of persons with this disorder will greatly reduce their need for hospitalization and will improve their life expectancy and lifestyle.
At this point I want to acknowledge the valuable work being done by Professor Gerry McElvaney and Larry Warren, and to thank them for their hard work and dedication in bringing the Programme to this stage and in increasing public awareness and professional understanding of the significance of the diagnosis and treatment of Alpha One.
The Alpha One Foundation was and is a strong supporter of the No Smoking Campaign. Smoking is one of the major causes of lung disease. We know that over 90% of all lung cancers are directly attributable to smoking. From a public health point of view there is no acceptable level of tobacco consumption and as Minister for Health and Children I make no apology for making the fight against smoking one of my top priorities.
The adverse impact of tobacco consumption on human health globally and locally is well documented. Tobacco smoke is the leading preventable cause of death and disability in Ireland. Medical evidence has repeatedly confirmed tobacco as a cause of cardiovascular disease, common cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthmatic attacks. About 7,000 deaths in Ireland each year are attributable to tobacco-related illness. I have been encouraged by the response of the general public to the ban on smoking in the workplace. The high levels of compliance indicate that in Ireland we are no longer prepared to ignore the fact that tobacco kills.
In parallel with the policy initiatives being pursued in the smoking area, I have been conscious during my term of office of the need to invest in the development of treatment and other programmes for persons with lung disease. One of the most significant areas in this regard is the Government’s commitment to the establishment of the National Lung Transplant Programme. Many of you will be aware that the Taoiseach formally opened the National Lung Transplant Unit at the Mater Hospital recently. That event represented the latest in a series of milestones on the road to the provision of an Irish-based Lung Transplant Programme. I know that a huge amount of work has been done by many people over the last few years in preparing for the launch of the Programme and I want to acknowledge the efforts of everyone involved in bringing the Programme to this stage. I would like to take this opportunity to wish the Programme every success.
Revenue funding of almost €8m has been provided to support the repatriation of the Lung Transplant Programme. As well as funding the operation of the Unit itself within the Mater Hospital, and the Alpha-1 National Targeted Detection Programme, it also supports the associated programme in St Vincent´s Hospital and the Cystic Fibrosis Registry. My Department has also conveyed sanction to the Eastern Regional Health Authority for a capital grant to proceed with proposals for the provision of an enhanced tissue typing facility here at Beaumont Hospital which will provide an essential tissue matching service for the Lung Transplant Programme in addition to the service already provided in respect of renal and pancreatic transplant.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate my thanks to the Alpha One Foundation for inviting me here today and I wish the Foundation every success with the National Targeted Detection Programme.
A copy of the Minster’s speech can also be found on the Department of Health & Children website here.