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!