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'Anti-scientific' policies causes Italian health head to quit

The head of Italy’s national health research organisation has said he was forced to quit because of the “anti-scientific” policies of the country’s populist government, reports The Guardian. Walter Ricciardi, the president of the National Health Institute, said the government’s endorsement of unscientific positions, particularly regarding vaccinations, was putting public health at risk.

The report says the League and the Five Star Movement (M5S) came to power last June with M5S leaders pledging to change a law that made it mandatory for children enrolling in state-run schools to receive 10 vaccines. Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League and Italy’s deputy prime minister, has said 10 vaccines are “too much”.

The report quotes Ricciardi as saying: “It’s clear that when the deputy prime minister says that he, as a father, believes there are too many obligatory, useless and dangerous vaccines, that’s not just unscientific, it’s anti-scientific.” He also said repeated claims that migrants brought diseases were “groundless”, the government’s insistence that waste-to-energy plants are obsolete was “nonsensical”, and a decision to ease restrictions on the use of contaminated soils in farming was taken without evaluating the impact on health.

He likened the government’s approach to the Trump administration’s reported recommendation to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to stop using the term “evidence-based”. “It’s an approach taken by populists who have great difficulty interacting with science,” he said.

The report says his resignation in December came after Giulia Grillo, the M5S health minister, sacked the entire board of Italy’s higher health council, which advises the government on health policy, to “open the door to other deserving personalities”. A new committee is expected to be selected this month.

M5S has in the past endorsed unproven cures for cancer, and in 2013 the party was a vociferous supporter of Stamina, a stem-cell therapy promoted by a psychologist that was later proven to be a con.

The report says Grillo has caused confusion by making several U-turns on the child vaccine policy. She first said that parents could “self-certify” that their children had been vaccinated, instead of providing a doctor’s note, causing mayhem at the start of the school year. Then in mid-November, amid a measles epidemic, the government said it would uphold the vaccines obligation and called for 800,000 infants, children and young adults to be vaccinated. The decision was made on the advice of the health committee.

[link url=""]The Guardian report[/link]

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