Dear Dr. Bahna, Please Retract or Resign

On Saturday my family and I took part in the Tampa Food Allergy Walk.  It was an incredible experience that I can't wait to share, and I took loads of photos that I can't wait to post.

I'm afraid something else has come up.

While the local food allergy community here in the Tampa Bay area came to together to raise awareness about the dangers of  food allergies and raise funds to help find a cure, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology was holding its its annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.  In fact, the gathering will continue through Tuesday.

As you might expect, the topic of managing food allergies was addressed at the convention, by no less than Dr. Sami Bahna, the President of the ACAAI himself.  The doctor's recommendations were even included in a press release.

So what did Dr. Bahna have to say?
“Highly allergic people may react after ingesting minute hidden quantities of peanuts or even after touching or smelling peanuts. These patients often live in fear they will come in contact with peanuts,” said Dr. Bahna. “There are ways to make life livable and less frightening, but there is no guarantee that specific allergens can be removed entirely from an environment.”
Sadly, this is indeed the reality of many food allergy sufferers.  Dr. Bahna also offers standard, solid medical guidelines to help minimize the risks, then comes to this stunning conclusion:
“Unfortunately, life is not risk-free,” said Dr. Bahna. “A minority of people are severely allergic to peanuts, but it is not reasonable or possible to expect schools or airlines to be peanut-free. Consideration should be also given to the freedom of the vast majority of non-allergic persons. Also, peanut is not the only food that can cause severe allergy.”
I'm sorry, did the ACAAI just send out a press release about their annual conference highlighting the remarks of its president Dr. Bahna defending the rights of non-allergic persons to eat peanuts on airplanes and in schools?

I'm the first to admit that it is virtually impossible to create a truly allergen free zone in a public space.  However, that is no excuse for giving cover to the airline industry for handing out packets of a food that causes notoriously violent reactions in a small, unventilated space without access to emergency medical services.

Even more astoundingly, in his concern for the "freedom" of the non-allergic Dr. Bahna also neglects the right of food allergic children as individuals with disabilities to have access to free appropriate public education under the Section 504 regulatory requirement of the Department of Education.  Personally I'm not a proponent of blanket peanut bans, but they may sometimes be appropriate, especially for very young children with life threatening allergies, which constitutes a medical condition legally requiring accommodation.

At the very least, Dr. Bahna needs to reconsider whether his role as a physician includes patient advocacy.  If he believes it does not, then he has no business as the head of an organization of medical professionals that are dedicated to the care individuals with food allergies.

Fortunately, the press release helpfully includes the Twitter tag #ACAAI2010 for those following the convention.  I have never specifically requested that my readers hit the Tweet button, but there is a brief window to give Dr. Bahna the opportunity to reconsider his position for the next 36 hours while the ACAAI continues its conventions.  Please do share your thoughts (politely) @ACAAI!  


Joanne said...

My god that is ridiculous! While it's true that you we can't avoid all risks all the time, you wouldn't leave your child alone with a stranger or drop them into a ten foot pool if they didn't know how to swim because that would be ludacris. But letting them go to school surrounded by things that will cause them to go into anaphylactic shock - just as crazy. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

I do not twitter so I went to acaai's website, found their 'contact us' email address (mail@acaai.org) and forwarded Libby's post along with my own comment. Hopefully they get the message!

Holly said...

I too sent an email that you may or may not agree with. I too, do not agree with peanut bans at school. My son is anaphylactic to milk and egg. While I feel accomodations need to be made for peanut allergies, completely banning one food allergen and allowing others doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Try banning milk from school. Children will be exposed to allergens throughout life, and need to learn to avoid the allergen. Banning products that are processed in facilities that process peanuts from vending machines is extreme, and gives the child a false sense of security that vending machines are safe. That is the kind of thing that is happening in my neighborhood, and I think it is the kind of over-reaction that Dr Bahna was trying to stop. However, I did make a case to him that airplanes should be peanut free due to the recirculated air and potential for shells to be airborn. I also stated that the severity of the allergy and the age of the child should be considered before "reasonable" bans were put in place.

Speedbump Kitchen said...

Libby, I ran this one by my little academic allergist crowd and to put it lightly, Bahna is considered to be a nut-job. This was his personal opinion, completely disregarding the facts and current research on the matter. Apparently, his peers walked out of the talk. The talk should have died right there, but instead was given legs with this 'press release'. Facts are stubborn things, let just hope Dr. Bahna doesn't learn the hard way...like Joel Stein did when he made fun of peanut allergies to then find himself the parent of a nut allergic child.