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Health Headlines - June 9

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:23pm

China Orders Companies to Stop Producing, Selling Zelnorm

Officials with China's State Food and Drug Administration on Friday ordered companies in China to halt production and sales of the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) drug Zelnorm, and told patients to stop taking the medication.

The Novartis drug was being made by three companies in China and a fourth company was preparing to produce it, the Associated Press reported.

In a statement posted on its Web site, the Chinese drug watchdog warned the "risks of Zelnorm outweigh the possible benefits for some patients based on analyses from home and abroad."

There have been 98 incidents of adverse reactions among users of Zelnorm reported to China's Center for Adverse Drug Reaction Monitoring since the drug went on sale in the country in 2003. Diarrhea and nausea were the most commonly reported problems. There was one reported case of low blood pressure and one of abnormally fast heartbeat.

In March, Novartis complied with a U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration request to withdraw Zelnorm from the American market after the drug was linked with increased risk of heart attack, stroke and chest pain that can become a heart attack, the AP reported.

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G8 Leaders Pledge $60 Billion to Fight Disease/Poverty in Africa

G8 leaders promised Friday to provide $60 billion to combat disease and poverty in Africa, CBC News reported.

The money from the world's richest nations would be targeted to fight illnesses such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, said Germany's development minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who announced the agreement on Berlin television.

She said the United States pledged to donate half the money aimed at increasing African patients' access to drugs and treatment, CBC News reported.

At their 2005 summit, G8 members promised to increase aid to Africa by $50 billion by 2010. That pledge is set to miss its target by $30 billion, according to international aid organizations.

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New Vaccine Could Help Eradicate Meningitis in Africa

A new meningitis vaccine that costs just 40 cents (U.S.) per dose could help wipe out the disease in Africa, says the World Health Organization.

The vaccine, developed in India, proved successful in tests on 12- to 23-month old children in Mali and Gambia. The tests found that the vaccine was safe and produced antibody levels in the children 20 times higher than levels produced by more expensive vaccines currently on the market, Agence France-Presse reported. Further tests are planned.

"When it becomes part of the public health arsenal, this vaccine will make a real difference in Africa," F. Marc LaForce, director of the Meningitis Vaccine Project, said in a prepared statement. The project is a partnership between the WHO and a U.S. non-profit group called PATH.

"The vaccine will allow elimination of the meningococcal epidemics that have afflicted the continent for more than 100 years," said LaForce, who added that the vaccine could be introduced in Burkina Faso by the end of 2008.

He said the vaccine could be used in a mass vaccination campaign that targets 350 million people between 2008 and 2020, AFP reported.

The results of the vaccine tests bring "real hope that the lives of thousands of children, teenagers, and young adults will be saved by immunization and that widespread suffering, sickness and socioeconomic disruption can be avoided," said WHO Director General Margaret Chan.

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Stem Cell Bill Passes Congress, But White House Veto Looms

A bill that would undo federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research passed the House on Thursday, but it did not have the requisite two-thirds majority needed to block a threatened veto by President Bush, the Associated Press reported.

The 264-176 vote (210 House Democrats and 37 Republicans supporting), follows on the Senate's passage of the bill a few weeks ago. The Senate ballot was one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to sidestep a White House veto.

Because they have the power to grow into any type of cell in the body, embryonic stem cells have long been viewed as a potential source of replacement tissue to treat a myriad of diseases. But opponents of embryonic stem cell research, including President Bush, object to the destruction of embryos as an assault on the sanctity of human life.

Supporting the bill, paralyzed congressman Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., said that, "My education has filled me with tremendous hope, not only that stem cell research might one day lead to a cure for spinal cord injuries, but that one day ... families will no longer watch in agony as a loved one with Parkinson's or Alzheimer's gradually declines," the AP reported.

But in a statement issued last week, President Bush said that if the bill was ever made law, "American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos. Crossing that line would be a grave mistake."

Bush announced on Aug. 9, 2001, that his administration would only allow federal funding for research involving a limited number of preexisting stem cell lines. Critics charge that those lines cannot supply the demands of U.S. researchers, and that many of the lines are contaminated.

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New Standards Sought for Ultrasound Check of Carotid Artery

Current standards used to measure narrowing of the carotid artery with ultrasound may be too aggressive and cause some patients to undergo unnecessary follow-up tests and procedures, say University of Chicago Medical Center researchers.

Narrowing of the carotid artery is a risk factor for stroke.

The researchers found that current standards, based on older imaging technology, often underestimate the amount of blood flow in the carotid artery. The researchers developed new standards and found them to be more accurate.

"As a result of this, we've changed the standards in our vascular lab," study author Dr. Hisham Bassiouny, director of the Non-Invasive Vascular Lab and interim chief of the university's Vascular Surgery Section, said in a prepared statement. "Hopefully new standards will be adopted everywhere. Such a move will save money and spare at least some patients from unnecessary procedures and tests."

The study was to be presented Thursday at the Society for Vascular Surgery's annual meeting, in Baltimore.

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Cancer Patients' Pain Often Poorly Managed

More than one in two (57 percent) of cancer patients in Europe suffer moderate to severe levels of daily pain, and one in five of those patients does not receive any treatment for their pain, says a study presented Thursday at the European Association of Palliative Care (EAPC) Congress in Budapest, Hungary.

The results of the European Pain in Cancer survey, which included 4,824 patients in 12 countries, show that pain has a major impact in reducing quality of life for people with cancer and that pain is often inadequately controlled.

The survey included patients with nearly all cancer types, with the exception of skin cancers.

"The findings highlight disappointing trends in cancer pain management; the medical community needs to get better at understanding that people with cancer are not just tumors to be treated in isolation and that the symptoms of cancer need to be managed as proactively as the disease itself. The fact that the majority of patients surveyed were being treated by oncologists, yet were experiencing pain related to their cancer, demonstrates this need clearly," Dr. Franco De Conno, honorary director of EAPC, said in a prepared statement.

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