News & Current Affairs

February 21, 2010

Portugal rushes aid to Madeira after deadly floods

Portugal rushes aid to Madeira after deadly floods

Portugal’s armed forces are sending two ships with helicopters and medical supplies to Madeira island, where floods have killed at least 32 people.

Extra search and rescue teams were expected to arrive on Sunday to help clean up after mudslides and raging floods tore through towns on Saturday.

Officials fear the death toll could rise. Water, power and phones were cut in some areas.

PM Jose Socrates, who is in Madeira, said he would “do everything to help”.

The storms were the worst there since October 1993, when eight people died.

“So far we have confirmed 32 deaths but eventually the number may increase,” regional official Francisco Ramos was quoted as saying by Portuguese newspaper Publico.

Madeira is located about 900km (560miles) from the Portuguese mainland and is popular with foreign tourists.

Debris left behind in Funchal by the flash floods

Officials say the extra emergency teams being sent include 56 military rescuers with search dogs and 36 firefighters.

Portuguese Interior Minister Rui Pereira, who has also flown to the island, said forensic experts would conduct post-mortem examinations to allow funerals to take place soon.

He added: “We are studying the possibility of declaring a state of emergency and then seeking help from the European Union.”

The regional capital, Funchal, among the worst affected areas by Saturday’s floods and mudslides.

Television pictures showed muddy torrents coursing down narrow channels and spilling over the sides, roads awash with water and streets littered with debris.

‘Ghost town’

Trees have been brought down and cars swept away, blocking roads and hampering relief teams. Some bridges and roads have been washed away.

MADEIRA FACTS
map
Autonomous region of Portugal with population of around 250,000
Lies just over 480km (300 miles) from West African coast
The European continent is more than 900km away

British holidaymaker Cathy Sayers told the news Funchal was like a ghost town. She said the infrastructure had been wrecked.

“The drains just cannot cope with the water that’s coming down from the mountains – they are just overfilled with sludge.”

There had not really been any warning that it would be quite so bad, she said.

“I think everyone is extremely shocked that this has happened at this time of year,” she said.

The president of the regional government, Joao Jardim, said outdoor markets would be encouraged to reopen.

“We don’t know how much it will affect the tourism, but there is no point in dramatising the situation too much,” he said.

Local media say the authorities’ main concern now is for residents of Nuns valley – an isolated mountainous region that rescue workers have been unable to reach.

The Weather Center says the severe weather was due a low pressure system, and that while Madeira can expect further rain with heavy downpours on Sunday, there is no danger of a repeat of the flash floods.


Do you live in the area? Have you been affected by the floods and mudslides? Are you visiting the island?

Send your comments

July 20, 2009

Alarming Africa male gay HIV rate

Alarming Africa male gay HIV rate

HIV

The reports said more education was needed to combat HIV among gay men

HIV rates among gay men in some African countries are 10 times higher than among the general male population, says research in medical journal the Lancet.

The report said prejudice towards gay people was leading to isolation and harassment, which in turn led to risky sexual practices among gay communities.

But the risks are not limited to gay men, as many of the infected also have female sexual partners.

The report called for greater education and resources in the fight against HIV.

The Oxford University researchers found that the prevalence of HIV/Aids among gay men in sub-Saharan African has been “driven by cultural, religious and political unwillingness to accept [gay men] as equal members of society”.

Lead researcher Adrian Smith told the EXPRESS there was “profound stigma and social hostility at every level of society concerning either same-sex behaviours amongst men, or homosexuality”.

“This has the consequence that this group becomes extremely hard to reach,” he said.

Mr Smith said that gay male sex had always been acknowledged as being particularly dangerous in terms of contracting HIV/Aids.

But gay men were also more likely to be involved in other high-risk behaviours, including sex work, having multiple partners and being in contact with intravenous drug use, he said.

Education crucial

George Kanuma, a gay rights activist in Burundi, told the EXPRESS many men “hide their sexual orientation” to get married and have children, but continue to have sex with men.

“Most of them know that you can contract HIV/Aids or any infection when you are making sex with women, but not when you are having sex with another man,” he said.

Mr Smith said there was “a desperate need for delivering a basic package of prevention for HIV”, including ensuring supplies of condoms.

“There is also a need to sensitise, educate and train those involved in HIV, the interface with men who have sex with men, to educate those involved in care and prevention activities,” he said.

The United Nations Aids agency estimates that 33 million people in the world have HIV, of whom two-thirds live in sub-Saharan Africa.

July 2, 2009

UN blames Israel for Gaza attacks

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 8:42 am
UN blames Israel for Gaza attacks

More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in
Israel’s month-long assault on Gaza [EPA]

A United Nations inquiry into the war in Gaza has found that Israel was to blame for at least seven direct attacks on UN operations – including schools and medical centres.

The UN report, commissioned by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said the Israeli military intentionally fired at UN facilities and civilians hiding in them during the war and used disproportionate force.

Missiles, bombs and small arms were all used by Israel against the UN – leading to dozens of deaths.

The UN’s own fuel and aid depot in Gaza was hit with Israeli artillery shells causing widespread damage.

The attack continued for two hours after the UN asked the Israeli military for it to stop.

‘Negligence and recklessness’

The report’s summary accused the Israeli army of “varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of UN staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries and extensive physical damage and loss of property.” Ban said at a news conference on Tuesday that the aim of the report, which is not legally binding, was to establish “a clear record of the facts” surrounding incidents involving UN premises and personnel.

A total of 53 installations used by the United Nations Relief and Works agency (UNRWA) were damaged or destroyed during Israel’s Gaza campaign, including 37 schools – six of which were being used as emergency shelters – six health centres, and two warehouses, the UN agency said.

Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey in New York said the UN secretary-general was still determining the UN’s course of action over the report’s 11 recommendations.The report said the UN would seek reparations for damages from Israel and meet the Israeli government.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, told Al Jazeera that the report was “one-sided” and that he hoped Ban would take into account Israel’s response to it.

Israel’s army concluded its own report into the three-week war on Gaza in late April, finding that Israel followed international law and that while errors occurred they were “unavoidable”.

Notorious incident

The report found that in seven out of the nine incidents involving UN premises or operations that it investigated, “the death, injuries and damage involved were caused by military actions … by the IDF [Israeli army]”.

The UN has called for an impartial inquiry into alleged crimes during the war [AFP]

It also said one of the incidents, when a World Food Programme warehouse in the Karni industrial zone in Gaza was damaged, was largely caused by a rocket “most likely” fired by Hamas or another Palestinian faction and condemned those responsible for using such “indiscriminate weapons” to cause deaths and injuries.The investigation included one of the most notorious incidents in the war, when up to 40 people are believed to have died at a UN school in Jabaliya after Israeli mortar shells struck the area.

The UN initially said the shells had hit the school but later retracted the claim, while Israel initially said its forces were responding to firing from within the school, but also later reportedly withdrew the statement, although the UN report noted the claim still appeared on the Israeli foreign ministry’s website as of Tuesday.

The report also recommended that because there had been “many incidents” during the war involving civilian victims, an impartial inquiry should be mandated “to investigate allegations of violations of international law in Gaza and southern Israel by the IDF [Israeli army] and by Hamas and other Palestinian militants”.

Israel’s 22-day war on Gaza left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, including around 400 children, Gaza health officials said, along with 13 Israelis.

Much of the coastal territory was also left in ruins.

Report ‘flawed’

Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the report was “fundamentally flawed” and contained “methodological problems are so deep that everyone has to ask on what basis they make these criticisms”.”Evidence shows one thing and the UN report clearly shows that they are not looking at reality.”

Israel has said the aim of its operations in Gaza was to cripple the Palestinian group Hamas’s ability to launch rockets into the south of Israel.

Earlier this month an Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed to Al Jazeera that it would not co-operate with a separate UN Human Rights Council investigation into alleged war crimes during the assault on the Gaza Strip.

International rights groups have accused both the Israeli military and Palestinian groups such as Hamas of violations throughout the conflict.

The UN secretary-general commissioned the report, written by a special committee led by Ian Martin, former head of Amnesty International, in January, shortly after fighting ended.

June 26, 2009

Singer Michael Jackson dies at 50

Singer Michael Jackson dies at 50

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson had been due to play 50 concert dates in the UK this summer

Pop star Michael Jackson has died in Los Angeles, aged 50.

Paramedics were called to the singer’s Beverly Hills home at about midday on Thursday after he stopped breathing.

He was pronounced dead two hours later at the UCLA medical centre. Jackson’s brother, Jermaine, said he was believed to have suffered a cardiac arrest.

Jackson, who had a history of health problems, had been due to stage a series of comeback concerts in the UK, beginning on 13 July.

Speaking on behalf of the Jackson family, Jermaine said doctors had tried to resuscitate the star for more than an hour without success.

He added: “The family request that the media please respect our privacy during this tough time.”

“And Allah be with you Michael, always. I love you.”

TV footage showed the star’s body flown from UCLA to the LA County Coroner’s office where a post-mortem is expected to take place on Friday.

Concerns were raised last month when four of Jackson’s planned comeback concerts were postponed, but organisers insisted the dates had been moved due to the complexity of staging the show.

AT THE SCENE
Rajesh Mirchandani
Rajesh Mirchandani
BBC News

Michael Jackson was brought here to the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles around 12 hours ago. Earlier there were several hundred people here, before it got dark – there was a sense of grief, of disbelief.

But in the last few hours, these people have been singing his songs, dancing, there was a guy on a keyboard earlier, playing his songs for people to dance along to.

This has turned into an impromptu celebration of Michael Jackson’s music. He’s the king of pop as far as they’re concerned. They’re still shocked by his sudden death but they’re here because they want to show their support.

A spokeswoman for The Outside Organisation, which was organising the publicity for the shows, said she had no comment at this time.

Broadcaster Paul Gambaccini said: “I always doubted that he would have been able to go through that schedule, those concerts. It seemed to be too much of a demand on the unhealthy body of a 50 year old.

“I’m wondering that, as we find out details of his death, if perhaps the stress of preparing for those dates was a factor in his collapse.

“It was wishful thinking that, at this stage of his life, he could be Michael Jackson again.”

Tributes have poured in from the entertainment industry. Sir Paul McCartney described Jackson’s death as ” sad and shocking”.

The pair worked together on two hit tracks, Say Say, Say and The Girl Is Mine from Jackson’s Thriller album.

He said ” I feel privileged to have hung out and worked with Michael. He was a massively talented boy-man with a gentle soul.

“His music will be remembered forever and my memories of our time together will be happy ones.

“I send my deepest sympathy to his mother and the whole family, and to his countless fans all around the world.”

Speaking outside New York’s historic Apollo theatre, civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton paid tribute to his friend.

“I knew him 35 years. When he had problems he would call me,” he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY

Can’t believe it. I’m gutted. RIP Michael, thanks for everything you gave us.

Tommy, Cardiff

“I feel like he was not treated fairly. I hope history will be more kind to him than some of the contemporary media.”

Melanie Bromley, west coast bureau chief of Us Weekly magazine, told the News the scene in Los Angeles was one of “pandemonium”.

“At the moment there is a period of disbelief. He was buying a home in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles and the scene outside the house is one of fans, reporters and TV cameras – it’s absolute craziness.

“I feel this is the biggest celebrity story in a long time and has the potential to be the Princess Diana of popular culture.”

Musical icon

Tributes from the world of music and film have already flooded in from celebrities including Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger and ex-wife Lisa Marie Presley.

Large numbers of fans have also gathered outside Jackson’s home and at the UCLA medical centre with lit candles to mourn the star while playing his greatest hits.

Facebook groups have also been set up for fans to share their memories.

The singer’s albums are occupying the top 15 slots of online music retailer Amazon.com’s current best-seller chart, led by his 1982 smash hit Thriller.

Paramedics were called to the singer’s house in Bel Air at 1221 (1921GMT) following an emergency phone call.

They performed CPR on Jackson and rushed him to the UCLA medical centre.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department said the robbery and homicide team was investigating Jackson’s death because of its “high profile”, but there was no suggestion of foul play.

Jackson began his career as a child in family group The Jackson 5.

MICHAEL JACKSON 1958-2009
Full name: Michael Joseph Jackson
Born: August 29, 1958, Gary, Indiana, US
Also known as: The King of Pop, Wacko Jacko
Biggest hits: I Want You Back, Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Billie Jean, Bad, Black or White, Earth Song

He then went on to achieve global fame as a solo artist with smash hits such as Billie Jean and Bad.

Thriller, released in 1982, is the biggest-selling album of all time, shifting 65m copies, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

He scored seven UK number ones as a solo artist and won a total of 13 Grammy awards.

“For Michael to be taken away from us so suddenly at such a young age, I just don’t have the words,” said Quincy Jones, who produced Thriller, Bad and Off The Wall.

“He was the consummate entertainer and his contributions and legacy will be felt upon the world forever. I’ve lost my little brother today, and part of my soul has gone with him.”

The singer had been dogged by controversy and money trouble in recent years, becoming a virtual recluse.

He was arrested in 2003 on charges of molesting a 14-year-old boy, but was found not guilty following a five-month trial.

The star had three children, Michael Joseph Jackson Jr, Paris Michael Katherine Jackson and Prince Michael Jackson II.

He is survived by his mother, Katherine, father, Joseph and eight siblings – including Janet, Randy, Jermaine and La Toya Jackson.

January 24, 2009

India PM undergoes heart surgery

India PM undergoes heart surgery

Manmohan Singh

Mr Singh’s surgery comes just months before a general election in India

Doctors have begun heart bypass surgery on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after he was admitted to hospital in Delhi, Indian media report.

A team of six to eight surgeons was expected to operate on the 76-year-old leader, after two blockages were found in his arteries, officials said.

Mr Singh previously had bypass surgery in 1990 and an angioplasty in 2004.

The ruling Congress Party says he will still lead the party in the forthcoming general election which is due by May.

Mr Singh underwent tests earlier this week after he complained of chest pains.

He will have “coronary artery bypass graft surgery” performed by doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, India’s top state-run hospital, and the Asian Heart Institute in Mumbai.

Doctors say that there is “very little risk” associated with Mr Singh’s surgery and that the prime minister should be fit to resume normal duties in three to four weeks.

Succession speculation

This is not a good time for the prime minister to be removed from the political fray, given the tense relations with Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

Rahul Gandhi

Will Rahul Gandhi emerge as a successor to Mr Singh?

Congress has so far dismissed concerns that Mr Singh’s health would interfere with its current election campaign.

But there has been widespread speculation that party chief Sonia Gandhi has been lining up her son, Rahul Gandhi, heir to India’s powerful Gandhi dynasty, as the country’s next prime minister.

Mr Singh has largely been in good health since he was sworn in as prime minister in May 2004, but he recently underwent prostate surgery and has also had cataract treatment.

Mr Singh, who studied economics at Cambridge and Oxford, became India’s finance minister in 1991 when the country was plunging into bankruptcy, and is widely regarded as the architect of the country’s economic reform programme.

The quietly spoken economist-politician is also seen as the cleanest politician in India, a subject dear to voters’ hearts.

Government officials said that Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee will take charge of cabinet meetings during the prime minister’s absence.

January 15, 2009

Gaza pounded amid push for truce

Gaza pounded amid push for truce

Israeli tanks have pushed deep into Gaza City, prompting fierce exchanges of gunfire with fighters of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The UN’s relief agency, Unrwa, says part of its HQ in Gaza caught fire after being hit by Israeli shells.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed outrage. Israeli PM Ehud Olmert apologised but said troops returned fire after coming under attack from the UN’s compound.

The Hamas interior minister, Said Siyam was reported killed in an air strike.

Both Hamas and Israeli officials said Siyam was killed at his brother’s home in Gaza City.

Meanwhile, Hamas and Israeli negotiators were said to be making progress towards a ceasefire agreement as they held separate meetings with Egyptian mediators in Cairo.

Olmert apology

Speaking to reporters on the Israel-Gaza border, Unrwa spokesman Christopher Gunness said three of the agency’s employees were hurt in the attack on its compound in Gaza City.

About 700 people were still sheltering in the compound, he said, and the fire had been burning close to five full fuel tanks.

Mr Gunness added that Unrwa would not be able to distribute food or medical supplies on Thursday as its trucks were unable to leave the compound.

Mr Olmert met Mr Ban and apologised for the attack, but blamed it on Palestinian fighters firing from the UN site.

“It is absolutely true that we were attacked from that place, but the consequences are very sad and we apologise for it,” he said.

“I don’t think it should have happened and I’m very sorry.”

Escalation

The coastal enclave came under heavy fire from the east in the early morning as soldiers and tanks pushed into Gaza City.

Witnesses said they saw soldiers on foot marching behind bulldozers and tanks.

The advancing troops came under fire from fighters from Hamas and other Palestinian factions positioned on rooftops and balconies.

The building where he lives in the Gaza City suburb of Tel al-Hawa was surrounded by Israeli tanks at one point, he said, and several shells hit the lower floors.

Columns of thick smoke rose into the sky over Gaza from fires touched off by the fighting.

About 70 people have been killed in the fighting on Thursday, Gaza’s Ministry of Health said.

Reports said at least 15 rockets had been fired from Gaza into Israel since the early morning, injuring eight people in Beersheba.

Nearly 1,100 Gazans and 13 Israelis have reportedly died so far in the conflict.

Speaking to the press after meeting Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv, Mr Ban repeated previous calls for an immediate ceasefire, and said the suffering in Gaza was a “dire humanitarian crisis” that had reached an “unbearable point”.

In other developments:

  • The UK Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown says the British government “utterly” condemns the attack on the UN headquarters in Gaza. Fierce criticism also came from the French foreign ministry
  • Two hospitals in Gaza City are hit by shellfire: the al-Quds hospital in Tel al-Hawa neighbourhood, scene of heavy fighting, and a Red Crescent hospital, the UK Red Cross says
  • The Shurouq tower block in Gaza City, which houses the offices of the Reuters news agency and several other media organisations, is hit by an explosion, injuring a journalist for the Abu Dhabi television channel
  • Leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council are to meet in Saudi Arabia to discuss the crisis. The Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, said the meeting was convened because of what he called Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people
  • A boat carrying medical supplies to Gaza is surrounded by Israeli warships in international waters off Lebanon’s southern coast and forced to return to Cyprus, according to charity Free Gaza
  • Palestinian deaths in the Gaza Strip reach 1,083 according to Gaza medical sources. Nearly a third of the dead are said to be children

‘Detailed vision’

Israeli and Hamas envoys have been in Cairo, holding separate meetings with Egyptian negotiators.

Egypt has been leading efforts to broker a ceasefire that could include a peacekeeping force being deployed along its border with Gaza to prevent the smuggling of weapons.

GAZA CRISIS BACKGROUND
Destroyed building in Gaza City

On Wednesday, Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil said his movement had presented Egyptian negotiators with a “detailed vision” of how to bring about a ceasefire.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, has said any ceasefire agreement would have to include a halt to Israeli attacks, the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces and the opening of border crossings to end the blockade of Gaza.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said there was “momentum” to the talks.

“Ultimately we want to see a long-term sustainable quiet in the south, a quiet that’s going to be based on the total absence of all hostile fire from Gaza into Israel, and an internationally supported mechanism that will prevent Hamas from rearming,” Mr Regev said.

Israel launched its offensive on the Gaza Strip on 27 December and has refused to allow international journalists to enter Gaza without supervision, making it to independently confirm casualty figures.

The offensive has provoked widespread international condemnation at the cost in civilian casualties and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the coastal enclave.

Map

September 29, 2008

Statins ‘prevent artery ageing’

Statins ‘prevent artery ageing’

Pills

Statins are now very widely used by the NHS

Drugs given to heart patients to lower cholesterol may have an additional benefit – keeping their blood vessels feeling younger.

Advanced heart disease patients have arteries which have effectively aged faster than the rest of their bodies.

University of Cambridge scientists, writing in the journal Circulation Research, say statins may be able to hold back this process.

They hinted the same drugs might also prevent damage elsewhere in the body.

It’s an exciting breakthrough to find that statins not only lower cholesterol but also rev up the cells’ own DNA repair kit
Professor Martin Bennett
Cambridge University

Statins are seen as a key tool in the fight against heart disease, and in low doses have been made available “over-the-counter” at pharmacies.

While it has been known for some time that they can lower cholesterol levels, this did not fully account for the benefits experienced by some patients, and evidence is growing that they can boost the function of the cells lining the heart arteries.

The Cambridge study adds to this evidence, and may shed light on how statins do this.

Cells in the body can only divide a limited number of times, and in patients with heart disease, the rate of division in these arterial cells is greatly accelerated – dividing between seven and 13 times more often than normal.

As the cells “run out of ” divisions, they can suffer DNA damage, and do not work as well.

One of the important roles of these cells is to keep the artery clear of fatty “plaques” which can expand and block them, causing angina or heart attack.

Cancer clue

The research found that statins appear to increase levels of a protein called NBS-1, which is involved in the repair of DNA within cells. This means they may be able to hold off the effects of old age in the artery wall for a little longer.

Professor Martin Bennett, who led the research, said: “It’s an exciting breakthrough to find that statins not only lower cholesterol but also rev up the cells’ own DNA repair kit, slowing the ageing process of the diseased artery.

“If statins can do this to other cells, they may protect normal tissues from DNA damage that occurs as part of chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer, potentially reducing the side-effects.”

Professor Peter Weissberg, the British Heart Foundation’s medical director, added: “Too much cholesterol in the blood induces a repeated cycle of damage and repair in the blood vessel wall which results in a heart attack if the repair mechanism is inadequate.

“Statins protect against heart attacks by reducing cholesterol levels and subsequent damage to the vessel wall – this research has shown they may also enhance the blood vessels’ natural repair mechanisms.”

September 18, 2008

Antibiotic ‘cerebral palsy link’

Antibiotic ‘cerebral palsy link’

cerebral palsy

Antibiotics appeared to treble the risk of cerebral palsy

A study has linked a small number of cases of cerebral palsy to antibiotics given to women in premature labor.

The UK study found 35 cases of cerebral palsy in 769 children of women without early broken waters given antibiotics.

This compared with 12 cases among 735 children of women not given the drugs. Advice is being sent to the study’s 4,148 mothers and a helpline set up.

Medical experts stressed pregnant women should not feel concerned about taking antibiotics to treat infections.

These findings do not mean that antibiotics are unsafe for use in pregnancy
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

The Oracle study was the largest trial in the world into premature labor and was set up to investigate whether giving antibiotics – which might tackle an underlying symptomless infection – to women with signs of premature labor would improve outcomes for babies.

One in eight babies in the UK is born prematurely and prematurity is the leading cause of disability and of infant death in the first month after birth.

Premature labor

In 2001, ORACLE found the antibiotic erythromycin had immediate benefits for women in premature labor (before 37 weeks gestation) whose waters had broken. It delayed onset of labor and reduced the risk of infections and breathing problems in babies.

Erythromycin and the other antibiotic studied – co-amoxiclav – showed no benefit or harm for the women whose waters were still intact, however, and doctors were advised not to routinely prescribe them in such circumstances.

To study the longer-term outcomes, the Medical Research Council-funded scientists followed up the children seven years later.

Pregnant women should not feel concerned about taking antibiotics to treat infections
Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson

Unexpectedly, both antibiotics appeared to increase the risk of functional impairment – such as difficulty walking or problems with day to day problem solving – and treble the chance of cerebral palsy in the children of the women whose waters had not broken.

Of the 769 children born to mothers without early broken waters and given both antibiotics, 35 had cerebral palsy, compared with 12 out of 735 whose mothers did not receive antibiotics in the same circumstances.

The reasons behind this link are unclear, particularly as there was no increased risk of cerebral palsy in women whose waters had broken.

Hostile environment

The researchers believe cerebral palsy is unlikely to be a direct effect of the antibiotic but rather due to factors involved in prolonging a pregnancy that might otherwise have delivered early.

Researcher Professor Peter Brocklehurst of Oxford University said: “We have a suspicion that infection is implicated in premature labour.

“Antibiotics may merely suppress levels of infection to stop preterm labour, but the baby remains in a hostile environment.”

Infections during pregnancy or infancy are known to cause cerebral palsy.

In a letter to doctors and midwives advising them about the findings, Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson says: “Pregnant women should not feel concerned about taking antibiotics to treat infections.

“It is important to note that these women had no evidence of infection and would not routinely be given antibiotics.”

Where there is obvious infection, antibiotics can be life-saving for both mother and baby, the CMO says.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “These findings do not mean that antibiotics are unsafe for use in pregnancy. Pregnant women showing signs of infection should be treated promptly with antibiotics.”

Cerebral palsy can cause physical impairments and mobility problems.

It results from the failure of a part of the brain to develop before birth or in early childhood or brain damage and affects one in 400 births.

A helpline is available for study participants on 0800 085 2411 between 0930 and 1630 BST. NHS Direct has information available for other members of the public.

A spokeswoman from the special care baby charity Bliss said: “This highlights the importance of fully understanding both the immediate and long-term impact of the care and treatment that both mother and baby receive at this crucial time.”

September 3, 2008

Palin case highlights teenage pregnancy

Palin case highlights teenage pregnancy

The Expressyoureself Blog looks at the problem of teenage pregnancy in the US after the revelation that the 17-year-old daughter of Alaska Governor and new Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is pregnant.

Bristol Palin, 17, holds her brother Trig during a Republican campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio, on 29 August 2008

Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was announced on Monday

The US is said to have one of the worst annual rates of teenage pregnancies in the developed world.

According to a report by Population Action International, published at the end of last year, there were 44 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 in the US for 2000-2005.

This compares with figures in the UK – itself said to be the country with the worst teenage pregnancy rate in Europe – of 27 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19.

Put differently, America is estimated to have some 750,000 teenage pregnancies a year.

Despite the continuous declines, the US teenage pregnancy rate is still among the highest among industrialised nations
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

According to America’s leading health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “About one-third of girls in the United States get pregnant before age 20.”

More than 80% of births in this group “were unintended, meaning they occurred sooner than desired or were not wanted at any time”, the CDC said.

Separately, in a report on 2002 data, the CDC said: “Despite the continuous declines, the US teenage pregnancy rate is still among the highest among industrialized nations. The costs of teenage childbearing in the United States are substantial.

“The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy recently estimated that $9.1bn in public funding was expended on teenage childbearing in 2004. These costs include public assistance, healthcare, child welfare and other expenses.”

Abstinence education

There is a debate state-side as to the reason for this high pregnancy rate.

The US offers government funding for health education programmes that promote sexual abstinence until marriage, although US lawmakers were investigating earlier this year whether to cut the funding.

State governments receive federal money they must match to fund abstinence programs.

Opponents of abstinence education say the approach ignores the fact that teenagers are sexually active and fails to give them accurate medical information or advice on safer sex.

Governor Palin herself has said she opposes funding sexual-education programs in Alaska and has supported abstinence programs in schools.

“The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support,” she wrote in a 2006 questionnaire distributed among gubernatorial candidates, the Associated Press reports.

A social conservative who is opposed to abortion, she said in a statement her daughter Bristol would keep the child and was to get married.

And in 2005, presidential candidate John McCain, who picked Mrs Palin as his running mate, opposed a Senate Democratic proposal that would have spent tens of millions of dollars to pay for pregnancy prevention programmes other than abstinence-only education, including education on emergency contraception such as the morning-after pill, AP reports.

August 23, 2008

Face transplant ‘double success’

Face transplant ‘double success’

The Lancet

This man had been attacked by a bear

Successful results from two more face transplants will speed progress towards similar operations in other countries, say experts.

The Lancet journal reported operations involving a bear attack victim in China, and a French patient with a massive facial tumour had taken place.

The Chinese patient was given not just the lip, nose, skin and muscle from a donor, but even some facial bone.

Specialists in London are working towards the UK’s first transplant.

Frenchwoman Isabel Dinoire became the world’s first face transplant patient in 2005 after being savaged by a pet dog. She described the results of the operation as a “miracle”.

The latest operations were just as complex, but involved different challenges for French and Chinese surgeons.

Face transplantation has moved from ethical debate to surgical reality
French transplantation team

The first operation took place in April 2006. The patient was a farmer from a remote village in Yunnan province in China, who had been attacked by a bear 18 months earlier, leaving a huge section of tissue missing from the right side of his face.

The operation, at Xijing Hospital in Xi’an City, used the face of a 25-year-old man who had died in a traffic accident.

Despite immune-suppressing treatment, the patient had to battle his body’s attempt to reject the new tissue on three occasions.

His doctors said they now believed that face transplantation was a viable long-term option.

The second operation, carried out in Paris in January 2007, involved a 29-year-old man disfigured by a neurofibroma, a massive tumour growing on his facial nerves.

Its removal was timed to coincide with a face transplant, and a year later, doctors again declared the operation a success.

The patient told them that previously he had been considered a “monster”, but now felt like an anonymous person in the crowd.

The procedure, they said, had moved “from ethical debate to surgical reality”.

Moving forward

In the UK, surgeons at the Royal Free Hospital in London are making preparations to carry out the operation if the right combination of patient and donor becomes available.

Professor Iain Hutchison, a consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Barts and the London Hospital, and founder of the “Saving Faces” charity, said that the twin successes would offer more encouragement for surgical teams considering carrying out their own operations.

He said: “This takes a step forward in two ways – firstly the use of bone as well as skin – and next is carrying out this operation on someone with a benign tumour.

“There will always be limitations to this – the main one would be a societal constraint – a lack of suitable donors.

“However, there is certainly demand for this, with the major area being for people with facial burns.”

Roger Green, president of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, said: “This particular surgery is a way of giving back a life to a patient who has been horribly scarred by burns, trauma or a tumour.

“However, we must acknowledge the long-term medical risks, such as transplant rejection and the need for life-long medication, associated with the procedure. There is also the potential of psychological impact following such a transplant.”

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