The month of May is dedicated to raising worldwide awareness of environmental illnesses including multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia (FMS).
These are debilitating conditions which affect many millions of people around the globe. Despite commonly rendering sufferers incapable of working, causing the breakdown of families, and putting a substantial burden on welfare systems, they generally receive little in the way of media attention and awareness among the general public, as well as medical staff and policy makers, remains pityful.
Every year during the month of May (and particularly on May 12th - awareness day), advocacy and support groups, along with individual sufferers and their loved ones, stage events to put environmental illnesses in the spotlight. Aims include raising awareness and educating the public about the severity of these conditions and how devastating they can be, not just for the sufferers themselves but also their families. Efforts are also made to bring the needs of environmental illness sufferers to the attention of the medical profession and governments since it is often a huge struggle to obtain the required medical and financial help.
Lobbying for greater research funding is also a goal during awareness month. Environmental illnesses currently receive a fraction of the funding that is allocated to studies investigating better recognised conditions such as diabetes and arthritis, which cause an equivalent or frequently lower level of diability. It took the sensational 2009 discovery of the XMRV retrovirus in chronic fatigue syndrome patients by a privately funded institution (The Whittemore Peterson Institute) to encourage the level of government interest and research funding that should be the norm for such a serious and prevalent illness.
It is a travesty that environmental illnesses remain off the radars of vast swathes of society despite the impact they have on the lives of those affected and the numbers of people suffering from one or more of them. Contrary to what may be a popular misconception, these conditions are relatively common. For example, according to the CFIDS Association of America at least one million Americans suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome1, while studies from across the developed world put the prevalence of severe multiple chemical sensitivity at 2-3 per cent of the population, with many more people adversely affected by fragranced products and other manmade chemicals to a lesser degree2,3.
These are just two of the environmental illnesses that deserve greater recognition and attention in order for sufferers to enjoy a greater quality of life. A full list of conditions for which May is important is as follows:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Awareness Month
- Fibromyalgia Awareness Month
- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Awareness Day
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness Month
- Electromagnetic Sensitivity Awareness Month
- Toxic Injury Awareness and Education Month
- Indoor Toxic Mold Awareness Week
- Chemical Awareness Week
- Food Allergy Awareness Month
- Neuroendocrineimmune Disorders Awareness Day
- International Day of Central Sensitivity Syndromes
- Gulf War Illness Recognition Day
Notable Effforts from Groups and Individuals Around the World
Blue Ribbon Campaign for ME/CFS (Canada) - www.blueribboncampaignforme.org
Dedicated to providing a voice for all M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sufferers around the world. The blue ribbon is used as a ME/CFS awareness symbol.
MCS America (USA) - www.mcs-america.org
Provides in-depth information and regular news updates on multiple chemical sensitivity. Also very proactive in terms of raising awareness. Co-founder Lourdes Salvador has been instrumental in educating US state governors and encouraging them to issue proclamations in support of May as awareness month for MCS. MCS America provides many excellent materials to help MCS suffers stage awareness events.
No Fun Blog (Spain) - nofun-eva.blogspot.com
Authored by Spanish MCS, ME/CFS and fibromyalgia sufferer, Eva Caballé. Eva is the author of the book Desaparecida: Una vida rota por la Sensibilidad Química Múltiple (Missing: A life broken by Multiple Chemical Sensitivity). Working with Spain's Liga SFC (CFS/ME League), Eva has published The Vulnerable Manifesto, a clear statement of what it is like to suffer from environmental illnesses.
- Caress SM and Steinemann AC (2004) A national population study of the prevalence of multiple chemical sensitivity Archives of Environmental Health 59(6):300-5
- NSW Department of Health (2003) The New South Wales Adult Health Survey 2002 NSW Public Health Bulletin Supplement 14(S-4)81-2