News & Current Affairs

July 27, 2009

Saudi sex boasts man apologises

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:02 pm

Saudi sex boasts man apologises

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A Saudi man who boasted about his sexual conquests on an Arabic TV station has tearfully apologised, as calls mounted for him to be punished.

Mazen Abdul Jawad talked about his sexual conquests, starting with a neighbour when he was 14, and how he picks up women in the kingdom.

Saudi media say officials are considering whether to charge him.

Pre-marital sex is illegal in Saudi Arabia and Mr Abdul Jawad could face imprisonment or flogging.

Discreet society

Saudi Arabia is not only the most conservative society in the Arab world, it is also the most discreet.

If people break its strict Islamic code they face punishment – lashes or imprisonment for drinking or non-marital sex.

These rules are flouted by locals as well as expatriates, but almost everyone who breaks the rules keeps quiet about it and hopes they won’t be found out.

So it is unusual for a Saudi man to appear on TV freely discussing the ways in which he has transgressed the Saudi code.

Mr Abdul Jawad agreed to be interviewed for the Red Lines show on the popular Lebanese TV station, LBC.

The show deals with taboos in the Arab world.

Bluetooth dating

Mr Abdul Jawad talked openly about his sexual conquests, starting when he was 14.

He also described how he used the Bluetooth function on his mobile to meet Saudi women.

Religious authorities have tried to ban such devices for this very reason.

Complaints have now been filed against Mr Abdul Jawad in his local court and online Saudi forums are full of denunciations of his behaviour.

He says he is considering suing LBC for misrepresenting his views.

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July 20, 2009

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dance festival

The Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival has been a big hit this year

Hundreds of women of all nationalities sway their hips and twirl in time to the beat of a drum in a hotel ballroom by the pyramids in Cairo.

Belly dancing is said to have been practised in Egypt since Pharaonic times and now it has caught on around the globe.

It is well-established in Europe and the US and has recently spread to Asia. This year dozens of dancers travelled from China for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dancing festival.

“Because this is the land of dance, women have to come!” declares Raqia Hassan, the festival organiser.

“When she comes she can meet famous dancers and musicians. She can see the pyramids. Anyone who comes to Egypt one time, she cannot stop coming back.”

Japanese belly dance fan

Safa Bakr’s shop attracts women from all over the world

Raqia, who has taught many belly dancing celebrities, leads her large class through the basic moves of the dance putting together a routine.

“It’s fun and you can do this at any age,” says Ewa Horsfield from London. “You can express your own personality. It’s an individual dance. You just listen and respond to the music.”

Many speak of the fitness benefits of belly dancing.

“In China all ladies like for their health,” says Angel from Shanghai.

“This kind of dance began here. Here teachers [are] very, very good so all Chinese ladies want to come.”

Contradictions

Belly dancing is big business in Egypt thanks to the global market.

Designer, Safaa Yasser Bakr, runs a belly dancing costume shop in the historic Khan el-Khalili bazaar.

She helps a Brazilian woman try on a sky-blue sequinned bra and a matching skirt with a split up one side.

“In one show big stars change costume many times,” she tells her. “You need maybe five different pieces.”

Nowadays Safaa sells most of her alluring outfits to foreigners.

Safa Yasser Bakr

Safa sells her wares in Khan el-Khalili – Cairo’s Islamic heart

“I see people coming from France, Italy, United States, Argentina, Spain, Japan,” she says.

But in Egypt at large, many experts fear the dance is losing its appeal.

Society has become more religious and conservative over the past generation and belly dancing is not considered a respectable profession.

“I don’t like belly dancing. I don’t like to see a woman half-naked dancing and moving her body like that,” says one man on the street in central Cairo.

“It has a kind of sexual movement. That’s why I don’t like to watch it,” adds his friend.

An older passer-by remembers the famous dancers of the 1960s with affection but says he would not let his wife or daughters dance in public today.

“I liked the old belly dancer because you could not see a lot of her body,” he remarks. “They were very respectable – not like the new ones now.”

Enduring art

Dance historian, Mo Geddawi, accepts belly dancing is facing a challenging time in Egypt but says this must be seen in perspective.

“Forget about different governments and religion,” he says. “When Christianity and then Islam came the dance was taboo, but people continued to dance.”

“Sometimes in public it is less but the dance never died.”

For now though international devotees help to ensure the dance goes on.

Diana Esposito from New York came to Cairo on a scholarship to study the social and economic reasons for its decline but has become an accomplished belly dancer herself.

“The first time I saw it I thought the movements were so sensual,” she says. “I decided to try something new and it became an addiction.”

“I don’t see the dance being done properly anywhere else in the world. That’s why everyone flocks here – this is the capital of belly dance.”

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.

June 23, 2009

Sarkozy stirs French burka debate

Filed under: Politics News, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:25 am

Sarkozy stirs French burka debate

Montage of women wearing the Islamic veil

The use of the head-to-toe veil is dividing opinion in France

Since this was the first time in almost one and a half centuries that a French president had been allowed to address parliament, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s speech was already on course to ruffle a few feathers.

The Greens and Communists refused to attend and the Socialists left early, claiming the venue for the address – the Chateau of Versailles, which was home to King Louis XIV – smacked of monarchy and a thirst for power.

But it was the French leader’s attack on the burka that really caused a stir.

He expressed his strong distaste for the head-to-toe Islamic veil, calling it not a sign of religion but a sign of subservience.

“It will not be welcome on French soil,” he said.” We cannot accept, in our country, women imprisoned behind a mesh, cut off from society, deprived of all identity. That is not the French republic’s idea of women’s dignity.”

President Sarkozy’s comments have not come out of the blue.

They are in response to a call last week by a group of 65 cross-party MPs, led by the Communist Andre Gerin, who wants a parliamentary commission set up to investigate the spread of the burka in France.

They want to see whether such a spread is indicative of a radicalisation of Islam, whether women are being forced to cover themselves or are doing so voluntarily, and whether wearing the burka undermines French secularism.

Mr Gerin believes the burka “amounts to a breach of individual freedom on our national territory”.

Because, if the mention of monarchy triggers warning bells in France, the mention of religion triggers much louder ones.

Ban in schools

The concept of secularism or “laicite” is sacred in France.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy
We must not fight the wrong battle. In the republic, the Muslim faith must be respected as much as other religions
Nicolas Sarkozy,
French President

The separation of church and state is jealously guarded by everyone from school teachers to government ministers – and the constitution states the republic “does not recognise, subsidise or remunerate any religious body”.

It underpinned the French Revolution, and has been a basic tenet of the country’s progressive thought since the 18th century when French Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Diderot and Montesquieu regarded religion as divisive, benighted and intolerant.

It was this same concept that was invoked five years ago to ban conspicuous signs of religion – including Islamic headscarves – from schools.

That decision sparked controversy and debate across Europe, with critics claiming it stigmatised Muslims at a time when France needed to be stepping up its fight against rife discrimination in the job market, which had caused so many youths of Muslim origin to feel forgotten by French society.

This latest call for a potential ban of the burka has prompted the head of the French Council for the Muslim Religion to warn MPs they risk stigmatising Muslims again.

But the special inquiry does have the backing of Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Paris Mosque and a former head of the Muslim council, who insists that Islam in France should be an “open and convivial Islam that allows people to live side by side”.

He fears that anecdotal evidence that more women are wearing the burka in France is linked to an “excess, a radicalisation” among some Muslims.

Find out about different styles of Muslim headscarf

With five million Muslims living here, France is home to Western Europe’s largest Islamic community and the government will be anxious not to isolate the Muslim population by being seen to be trying to dictate to women what they should wear.

The issue has even split the French cabinet.

Rama Yade, the Muslim human rights minister, said she would be open to a ban if it was aimed at protecting women who wore a burka against their will. The immigration minister, Eric Besson, believes a ban will only create tensions.

President Sarkozy may have given his backing to an open debate on the burka, but he also insisted France needed to make sure it knew exactly what it was debating.

“We must not fight the wrong battle,” he said. “In the republic, the Muslim faith must be respected as much as other religions.”

June 22, 2009

Atlantic crash bodies identified

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 1:17 pm

Atlantic crash bodies identified

Bodies from the Air France crash being unloaded at the Fernando de Noronha airport, 11 June 2009

Only 50 bodies from the Air France crash have been recovered so far

Officials in Brazil have identified the first 11 of 50 bodies recovered from the Air France disaster in which 228 people died three weeks ago.

The bodies were those of 10 Brazilians and one male foreigner, officials said. They gave no further details.

The Airbus A330 plunged into the Atlantic on 1 June. The data recorders have not been found, and the cause of the crash remains a mystery.

Search teams from several countries are still scanning the search area.

Investigators are examining the bodies and debris at a base set up in the northern Brazilian city of Recife.

Five of the victims were identified as Brazilian men, five as Brazilian women and one as a “foreigner of the male sex”, local officials said on Sunday. The nationality of the foreigner has not been revealed.

DNA samples

Dental records, fingerprints and DNA samples were used to identify the bodies, a statement said.

Families of the Brazilian victims and the embassy in Brazil representing the foreigner’s home country have been notified, the statement added, but the identities will not be publicised in keeping with relatives’ wishes.

Brazilian Navy ship Caboclo with plane debris  19.6.09

Debris from the plane is being brought back to Recife

Speculation about what caused the plane to go down between Rio de Janeiro and Paris has so far focused on the possibility that the airspeed sensors were not working.

The plane is known to have registered inconsistent speed readings just before it crashed in turbulent weather.

The plane’s “black boxes” can emit an electronic tracking signal for about 30 days and French-chartered ships are scouring the search area pulling US Navy underwater listening devices.

A French nuclear submarine is also involved in the search for the recorders, which could be up to 6,100m (20,000ft) deep, on the bed of the Atlantic.

US and Brazilian officials said on Sunday that so far no signals had been picked up.

January 31, 2009

Iraqis vote in landmark elections

Iraqis vote in landmark elections

A man casts his vote in Baghdad, Iraq (31/01/2009)

Voters had to pass through strict security to cast their ballots

Iraqis are electing new provincial councils in the first nationwide vote in four years, with the Sunni minority expected to turn out in strength.

Sunnis largely boycotted the last ballot. Correspondents in Baghdad, where there has been a total ban on vehicles, said voting started slowly.

The vote is seen as a test of Iraq’s stability ahead of the next general election later this year.

Security is tight and thousands of observers are monitoring the polls.

Up to 15 million Iraqis are eligible to cast votes.

“This is a great chance for us, a great day, to be able to vote freely without any pressure or interference,” a Baghdad voter identified as Hamid told Reuters news agency.

Another voter said he had not slept in order to be first at the polling station.

“I want this experience to be a success, and that there will no fraud,” said Adnan al-Janabi.

Security tight

Voters had to pass through stringent security checks to reach the polling stations, which were mostly set up in schools.

As voting got underway, several mortar rounds landed near polling stations in Tikrit, hometown of late ruler Saddam Hussein, but no casualties were reported.

Hundreds of international observers are monitoring the vote, as well as thousands of local observers from the various political parties.

We didn’t vote and we saw the result – sectarian violence
Khaled al-Azemi
Sunni speaking about 2005 boycott

At least eight of the 14,000 candidates have been killed in the run up to the election.

Three of the candidates – all Sunni Muslims – were killed on Thursday, in Baghdad, Mosul and Diyala province.

While the recent level of violence around Iraq is significantly lower than in past years, Iraq’s international borders have been shut, traffic bans are in place across Baghdad and major cities, and curfews have been introduced.

Hundreds of women, including teachers and civic workers, have also been recruited to help search women voters after a rise in female suicide bombers last year, according to the Associated Press.

Iraqi and US military commanders have in recent days warned that al-Qaeda poses a threat to the elections.

Setting the stage

Sunnis largely boycotted the last ballot, a general election which resulted in Shia and Kurdish parties taking control of parliament.

Despite intimidation, many Sunni voters say they will vote this time.

PROVINCIAL ELECTIONS
Baghdad prepares for Saturday's election

Some, like Khaled al-Azemi, said the boycott last time had been a mistake.

“We lost a lot because we didn’t vote and we saw the result – sectarian violence” he told the News.

“That’s why we want to vote now to avoid the mistakes of the past.”

The drawing of alienated Sunnis back into the political arena is one of the big changes these elections will crystallise.

On the Shia side, the results will also be closely watched amid signs that many voters intend to turn away from the big religious factions and towards nationalist or secular ones.

If they pass off relatively peacefully, these elections will set the stage for general polls at the end of the year and for further coalition troop withdrawals, our correspondent says.

The election is also being seen as a quasi-referendum on the leadership of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

Saturday’s elections are being held in 14 of the country’s 18 provinces, with more than 14,000 candidates competing for just 440 seats.

There is no vote in the three provinces of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of the north and the ballot has been postponed in oil-rich Kirkuk province.

Iraq’s provincial councils are responsible for nominating the governors who lead the administration and oversee finance and reconstruction projects.

January 24, 2009

Obama lifts ban on abortion funds

Obama lifts ban on abortion funds

US President Barack Obama has lifted a ban on federal funding for foreign family planning agencies that promote or give information about abortion.

The US is one of the biggest supporters of family planning programmes globally, but former president George W Bush blocked funds for abortion services.

Powerful anti-abortion groups in the US have criticised the lifting of the ban.

But aid agencies welcomed the move, saying it would promote women’s health, especially in developing countries.

A White House spokesman said Mr Obama signed the executive order without asking for coverage by the media late on Friday afternoon.

The issue of abortion services remains controversial in the US, pitting pro-life conservative groups against more liberal, pro-choice Americans who back a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

This may be why President Obama signed the order with so little fanfare.

Highly contentious

Organisations that had pressed Mr Obama to make the abortion-ban change were jubilant.

They called the funding ban the “gag rule” because it cuts funds to groups that advocate or lobby for the lifting of abortion restrictions.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America hailed the president for “lifting the stranglehold on women’s health across the globe with the stroke of a pen.”

“No longer will health care providers be forced to choose between receiving family planning funding and restricting the health care services they provide to women,” the organization said in a statement.

But anti-abortion groups were quick to criticise the reversal of the funding ban.

“President Obama not long ago told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but today he is effectively guaranteeing more abortions by funding groups that promote abortion as a method of population control,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

A 1973 decision by the US Supreme Court legalised abortion.

A Gallup poll conducted last year showed that 54% of Americans think abortion should be allowed under certain circumstances, 28% believe it should be legal under any circumstances, while 17% back a total ban.

See-saw issue

The policy has become a see-saw issue between Republican and Democratic administrations.

Former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, repealed the policy when he took office in 1993 and George W Bush reinstated it in 2001.

The ruling is also known as the Mexico City Policy, because it was first introduced at a UN conference there in 1984 by former Republican President Ronald Reagan.

In a move related to the lifting of the abortion rule, Mr Obama is also expected to restore funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in the next budget, the AP news agency reported.

The Bush administration contended that the fund’s work in China supported a Chinese family planning policy of coercive abortion and involuntary sterilisation, claims the UNFPA has vehemently denied.

In a separate move earlier on Friday, US regulators cleared the way for the world’s first study on human embryonic stem cell therapy.

While the decision of the US Food and Drug Administration is independent of White House control, Mr Obama is widely expected to adopt a more pragmatic and science-oriented approach to stem cell research.

September 29, 2008

Maoists’ ugly view of Miss Nepal

Maoists’ ugly view of Miss Nepal

missnepal.com)</i>
I feel like we are under a dictatorship more than being a republic or democratic
Pranayna KC

Would-be beauty queens in Nepal have expressed their disappointment after the postponement of the Miss Nepal contest for the sixth time this year.

It should have been held at the weekend but local authorities banned it after pressure from the Maoist party which heads the government.

Contestants due to have taken part have complained of being “victimised”.

The Maoists say that the contest discriminates against certain ethnic groups and demeans women.

It is not often that a beauty pageant is scheduled to take place at the army’s headquarters.

But that is where the organisers, event management company Hidden Treasure, had planned to hold the contest – such were the sensitivities it raised.

At the last moment they got a letter from Kathmandu’s district government. “Keeping peace and security in mind, do not let this event take place,” it said.

The event’s antagonist is the women’s wing of the Maoist party, the All Nepal Women’s Organization (Revolutionary). Last month it stormed the offices of the pageant’s Indian sponsor, Dabur Nepal, and locked out its staff.

missnepal.com)

Protesters say beauty contests are anti-women

The Maoists’ most senior woman, Pampha Bhusal, told the BBC the contest discriminated against certain ethnic groups and against shorter and darker women, and that it demeaned women by using them to advertise toothpaste and shampoo.

But the organizers say it is open to all and that the women have been helping flood victims and working in socially useful campaigns.

Different visions

One contestant, 19-year-old Pranayna KC, said the Maoists were violating young women’s rights. The women and the organizers have been in constant dialogue with the former rebels but to no avail.

“The way they talk to us, they always think they are right. Everything they say is right, every view that they say is right,” she said. “I feel like we are under a dictatorship more than being a republic or democratic.”

missnepal.com)

The Maoists’ attitude towards beauty pageants is not consistent

The organizers and contestants say that there have been anonymous and threatening telephone calls against them, some in the middle of the night.

The Miss Nepal pageant personifies the quarrel between groups of people with very different social visions.

On the one hand are those who say beauty pageants are a force for good and for the promotion of what is beautiful. On the other are those like the Maoists who say they are un-Nepalese and do nothing to improve the lot of women.

In the middle are many more. Another Nepali woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she did not like the Maoists’ attempts to control people’s lives but on the other hand felt there were better causes than Miss Nepal to fight for.

Opponents of the ban say the pageant builds up women’s skills and profile in all sorts of fields. But Amrita Thapa, head of the Maoist women’s organization, says the contest should decide whether it is about physical beauty or about professional skills and that it cannot be both.

The Maoists have not been entirely consistent about their own reasons for opposing the pageant. Until recently they based their argument on gender, saying the contest demeaned women.

But Pampha Bhusal now says they support certain such pageants including one called Miss Tamang, open to members of one populous but traditionally marginalized ethnic group. Several similar pageants have continued to take place amid the current controversy.

The row has increased the perception of the Maoists, now Nepal’s biggest elected party, as being somewhat puritanical and preoccupied with social control. But they say that just because other countries hold such contests, that is no reason for Nepal to do so.

Meanwhile 17 young women’s hopes of becoming Miss Nepal and taking part in Miss World in South Africa in December look increasingly bleak.

September 19, 2008

Why Kenyan women crave stones

Why Kenyan women crave stones

Stones on sale in Kenya market

Nancy Akoth is four months pregnant and like many women in her state has strange cravings.

Some women eat coal, gherkins or soap but Mrs Akoth craves soft stones, known in Kenya, where she lives, as “odowa”.

“I just have this urge to eat these stones. I do very crazy things, I would even wake up at night and go looking for them,” she told.

“I consulted my doctor and all he told me is that maybe I’m lacking iron and gave me medication on iron, but I still have the urge to eat those stones.”

Luckily for Mrs Akoth, she is not alone in craving stones and they are easily found on sale in Nairobi’s sprawling Gikomba market.

It can actually cause things like kidney damage and liver damage, if you don’t take enough fluid
Alice Ndong, nutritionist

Among the fish-mongers and dealers in second-hand goods who flock to the market are traders who specialise in odowa.

Stone-seller Stephen Ndirangu unsurprisingly says women are his main customers.

“Most of them buy the stones to go and sell them to women who are pregnant,” Mr Ndirangu says.

He says he sells one 90kg sack for about $6.

‘Pleasant taste’

Although they are stones, they are too soft to break the teeth of Mrs Akoth and her fellow cravers.

Nutritionist Alice Ndong says the stones have a bland taste.

“It’s a pleasant taste. It doesn’t have a tangy flavor or a salty or a sugary flavor. It’s a bit like eating flour,” she told.

I cannot do without it
Sylvia Moi

She says that because of their abrasive nature, the stones actually clean the teeth as the stone is chewed and the finer particles pass through the mouth.

However, she warns this should not be used as an excuse to eat the stones as the habit can also have harmful consequences.

“If somebody eats those stones and they don’t take enough water, then they will actually get severe constipation… It can actually be very dangerous,” she says.

“It can actually cause things like kidney damage and liver damage, if you don’t take enough fluid because it will form a mass that cannot be excreted.”

“When you eat these stones, it’s like eating metal. The particles – because it’s not food – are not digested as finely as fruits or vegetables,” she says.

‘Irresistible’

The phenomenon of craving non-food items like soil or soft stones is referred to as pica, a Latin word for magpie, the bird notorious for eating almost anything.

Researchers from the University of Nigeria interviewed 1,071 pregnant women attending a prenatal clinic at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi.

At least 800 of those interviewed said they ate soil, stones and other non-food items during their pregnancy.

But it is not only those who are pregnant who indulge in this habit.

Sylvia Moi still finds the soft stones irresistible, 14 years after she gave birth.

“I cannot do without it… Walking without it makes me feel bad, as if I’m lacking something [or] I’m hungry,” Mrs Moi says.

She says she would like to quit the habit but just cannot stop herself.

“When you eat it you look awkward, people think: ‘What is it that you lack in you that makes you eat that awkward stone,'” she says.

Infection

Experts say that the craving to eat odowa is largely due to a deficiency of vital minerals, like calcium, in the body.

“Unfortunately, these stones don’t offer a lot of calcium. They offer some other forms of minerals like magnesium but not much calcium,” says Mrs Ndong.

Research shows that these habits have negative side-effects on the women’s health, ranging from parasitic infestations, anaemia and intestinal complications

“The problem with these stones is sometimes they’re not hygienic. I remember up-country I’ve seen people just go somewhere, dig up and maybe people urinate in that spot,” she says.

Experts warn pregnant women and others who enjoy eating odowa to try to ignore these cravings for the sake of their health.

The researchers say that the women are better off eating a balanced diet, than remaining hooked to the myth that their changing bodies need soft stones and soil.

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.”

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