Medicine and Health

World Health Organisation says BSE is a major threat

By Paul Mitchell, 6 July 2001

Scientists last month warned that Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow Disease, “has joined AIDS as a major health challenge facing the world.” A conference organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) concluded with a call for governments to “strongly consider” testing for BSE in cattle used for human consumption and imposing a worldwide ban on meat and bonemeal cattle feed (MBM).

Australian jury finds passive smoking causes cancer in landmark legal case

By Kaye Tucker, 12 May 2001

For the first time anywhere in the world, an employee has successfully sued an employer after contracting cancer as a result of passive smoking. Former bar attendant Marlene Sharp, 62, was awarded $466,000 in damages after a four-person jury in the New South Wales Supreme Court found that the Port Kembla RSL club in Wollongong had been negligent and breached its duty of care.

BSE / "Mad Cow Disease" spreading in Spain

By Vicky Short, 7 May 2001

Forty-three animals infected with BSE, or “Mad Cow Disease,” have so far been registered in Spain. According to official information provided by the department of agriculture and fisheries, 33 of these are concentrated in the north-west area of Galicia. The others are in Asturias/Basque Country (6 cases), Barcelona (2) and the Balearic Islands (2). The cases were reported between November 22, 2000 and April 3 this year.

New report suggests link between power lines and risk of childhood leukemia

By Kaye Tucker, 31 March 2001

For decades controversy has persisted about the health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) generated by the transmission of electricity through power lines. Now an independent advisory group to Britain's National Radiation Protection Board (NRPB) has released a wide-ranging review of relevant scientific research. The group's chairman, Sir Richard Doll, was the first scientist to link cigarette smoking with lung cancer more than 30 years ago,

Oxfam reports show adverse health impact of drug patents on developing countries

By Chris Talbot, 3 March 2001

A series of recent reports on pharmaceutical drugs in the third world by the British charity Oxfam highlight the adverse health impact patent laws are having on developing countries. In the drive to maintain and increase their huge profits, Western drug companies are putting vital medicines beyond the reach of a growing and vast proportion of the world's population.

Growing concern about "Mad Cow Disease" in the US

By Joanne Laurier, 2 February 2001

More than 1,200 head of cattle in Texas were quarantined last week for fear of exposure to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as “mad cow disease”. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating whether the feedlot eaten by the cattle contained meat-and-bone meal made from other ruminant animals. St. Louis-based Purina Mills Inc. confirmed that its feed mill in Gonzales, Texas manufactured the questionable feed.

"Economy-class syndrome" a major health threat

Airlines fail to warn of the dangers of DVT

By Kaye Tucker, 26 January 2001

Last November Emma Christoffersen, aged 28, from Newport, South Wales, collapsed in the arrival hall of Heathrow airport after flying to England from Australia. She later died. A post mortem revealed the cause of death to be pulmonary embolism. “We were told she died from sitting in the cramped seat of a jumbo jet for such a long time,” her mother told the media. “I'd never heard of the condition ... I don't want other parents to go through what we have endured and that is why I want to give this warning about the danger of flying.”

BSE/"mad cow disease" crisis spreads throughout Europe

By Richard Tyler, 23 January 2001

Cases of BSE have now been identified in 10 of the 15 European Union (EU) countries, as well as Switzerland and Liechtenstein, which are not members. Although incidences are still relatively few in number, the discovery of the disease across the continent has had a dramatic effect on beef consumption, which has fallen by 27 percent across the EU.

United Nations AIDS report confirms worst epidemic in history

By Chris Talbot, 4 December 2000

An estimated three million people will have died of AIDS in 2000, the highest annual figure yet recorded. 500,000 of these were children. Although 2.4 million of the total deaths were in sub-Saharan Africa, the latest UNAIDS and World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics also show serious increases in the number of HIV infections in countries that are part of the former Soviet Union, as well as in South and South-East Asia. The UNAIDS/WHO report was timed to appear for World AIDS day, December 1.

Deadly Ebola outbreak spreads in Uganda

By Chris Talbot, 21 October 2000

Deaths from Ebola, one of the most deadly viruses known to man, now total 41 in Uganda. 17 new cases were reported in a 24-hour period up to October 18. The first instances of the disease were reported at one of the hospitals in Gulu, a town in northern Uganda, where three nursing students died. Both hospitals in Gulu, already overstretched and under funded, are now attempting to deal with the disease with assistance from World Health Organisation (WHO) experts.

BSE inquiry delivers report as scientists raise fresh concerns about "mad cow disease"

By Paul Mitchell, 3 October 2000

The inquiry into the BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) crisis set up by Labour shortly after coming to office in 1997 sent its final report back to the government yesterday. It covers the period from the first recognised outbreak of “mad cow disease” in the mid-1980s up to March 20 1996—when the previous Tory government first admitted a direct link between BSE in cattle and a new variation of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the brain-wasting disorder in humans.

Hormones in the environment: how the facts were covered up

By Paul Mitchell, 20 September 2000

Every male fish in some European rivers shows pronounced female characteristics, according to Professor Alan Pickering of the Natural Environment Research Council. Speaking to the British Association's Festival of Science in London earlier this month, Pickering said, "We are finding this problem right across northern Europe, it is clearly widespread."

Britain: Ritalin ban recommended for children under five years of age

By Liz Smith, 9 September 2000

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), an independent watchdog that rules on the appropriate use of drugs, is to recommend that Ritalin should not be given to children under five years of age. Whilst it may still be prescribed for older children, there will be clearer definitions of the conditions for its use.

AIDS in Africa: an indictment of an outmoded social order

By Fred Mazelis, 16 August 2000

The 13th International Conference on AIDS, held in Durban, South Africa last month, highlighted the social catastrophe unfolding on the African continent. The meeting took place in the country with the largest number of people infected by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, on the continent that is home to 70 percent of the world's HIV-infected population.

Britain: Deaths from Human BSE reveal "statistically significant rising trend"

By Richard Tyler, 20 July 2000

Two more deaths in the last fortnight have brought to 69 the total number of fatalities in the UK from variant Cretzfeld Jakob Disease (vCJD). So far this year 14 people have died from this brain-wasting disorder related to BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) or Mad Cow disease, equalling the 1999 total. Another seven are known to be currently suffering from this incurable disease, also known as Human BSE.

UN report on AIDS paints a picture of devastation-Part 2

By Paul Scherrer, 18 July 2000

The United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) report on AIDS paints a picture of devastation in Africa and warns of catastrophe in many other regions of the world, yet offers no solution to this raging epidemic.

UN report on AIDS paints a picture of devastation—Part 1

By Paul Scherrer, 17 July 2000

The United Nations and World Health Organization report on AIDS paints a picture of devastation in Africa and warns of catastrophe in many other regions of the world, yet offers no solution to this raging epidemic.

Renewed fears that BSE/Mad Cow Disease can pass from one generation to another

By Barry Mason, 12 July 2000

Britain's Agricultural Minister confirmed in parliament last month that a calf had been born with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease. The animal was born after August 1, 1996, when extra control measures on animal feed containing mammalian meat and bone meal had been implemented, supposed to eradicate the incidence of BSE.

CIA says Africa's AIDS epidemic is a "national security" issue

By Barry Mason, 21 June 2000

A recent speech by US President Bill Clinton indicates that the major powers are increasingly approaching the AIDS crisis in Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Union as a security issue, rather than a public health problem to be tackled by curative and preventative measures.

Drug-resistant tuberculosis threatens millions

By Debra Watson, 16 May 2000

The super-deadly strains of drug-resistant tuberculosis that killed 500 people in New York City in the early 1990s are now turning up in alarming numbers in the underdeveloped countries.

Obesity: a curable epidemic

By Leanne Josling, 29 April 2000

Obesity has become a global pandemic affecting the lives and health of millions of people, according to the World Health Organisation. It is an accelerating social problem in industrialised countries and is also growing in the former colonial world.

British doctors fear mother has passed human BSE disease to baby

By Keith Lee, 17 March 2000

Doctors in Britain are concerned that a 24-year-old mother has passed on the fatal human form of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or “mad cow disease”) to her baby, now four months old.

Gene therapy trials shut down at University of Pennsylvania following patient death

By Tom Bishop, 13 March 2000

The promising field of gene therapy was rocked by the September 17, 1999 death of 18-year-old patient Jesse Gelsinger. Gelsinger had volunteered to participate in a gene therapy trial for the rare genetic disease ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency (OTC) at the Institute for Human Gene Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (Penn). On January 21 the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shut down all gene therapy trials at the institute.

Promising new insights into early cancer growth

By Perla Astudillo, 3 March 2000

In a significant advance in cancer research, US scientists have pioneered a new technique to record the earliest stages of a tumour's development. Using microscopic pictures, Duke University scientists recorded the tumour's early growth through glass “windows” placed in the sides of live mice. The results showed that tumours began to sprout blood vessels—a process known as angiogenesis—at a much earlier stage than previously thought.

Risk of Mad Cow Disease growing throughout Europe

By Paul Mitchell, 15 January 2000

A single cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow Disease, could expose up to 400,000 people to the risk of infection according to the European Union's Scientific Steering Committee (SSC). This is the worst case scenario presented in the Committee's report Human Exposure Risk via Food with respect to BSE.

Study finds "indisputable" link between BSE/"Mad Cow Disease" and CJD in humans

By Barbara Slaughter and Harvey Thompson, 29 December 1999

A team of scientists working on the link between Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE or “Mad Cow Disease”) and the degenerative brain condition found in humans, (new) variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD or vCJD), have made a significant breakthrough. The research, which has been carried out by doctors in Scotland and the US, found that the infectious agents, or prions, that cause both BSE and vCJD produced exactly the same disease characteristics when injected into laboratory mice.

Despite new treatments, world AIDS deaths continue to rise

Wide disparity seen between rich and poor nations

By Paul Scherrer, 10 December 1999

Despite declining death rates in the United States and Western Europe, 2.6 million people worldwide will die this year from AIDS, more than in any previous year. Since the epidemic began in the late 1970s, AIDS has claimed the lives of 16.5 million people.

Mad Cow Disease inquiry reveals how British government protected pharmaceutical companies at expense of public health

By Paul Mitchell, 9 December 1999

Most attention during the crisis surrounding Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as Mad Cow Disease, has focused on the risk of eating beef. However evidence to the ongoing British government BSE Inquiry shows how the potentially greater risk from the use of cow by-products in vaccines and other medicines was covered up.

New York City reports outbreak of West Nile virus

By Andrea Peters, 7 October 1999

Scientists in the New York metropolitan area have identified the presence of a viral strain never before seen in the Western hemisphere, West Nile virus. Initially believed to be an outbreak of St. Louis Encephalitis, illness resulting from the virus has been responsible for the deaths of at least five people in New York, four of them city residents. There are currently a total of 37 confirmed cases in humans.

Shift work and ill-health

By Leanne Josling, 6 September 1999

A growing number of workers in Australia are required to work shifts, particularly night and rotating shifts, despite mounting evidence of the safety dangers and risks to health involved. Nearly one million workers are affected today—one in seven—an increase of some 100,000 over the past six years.

UN reports reveal global growth of drug abuse

By Steve James, 28 August 1999

Two recent reports by the United Nations Drugs Control Programme (UNDCP) provide an insight into the global spread of drug abuse. "Global Illicit Drug Trends" was compiled from questionnaires sent to national governments requesting information on drug seizures by police and customs officials. "The Drug Nexus in Africa" was drawn out of information forwarded by drug control agencies in 10 African states. In the language of statistics, they provide an overview of the scale and depth of drug use internationally. The African report in particular sheds some light on the social, economic and political origins of drug taking.

Australian schoolgirl contracts HIV via blood transfusion

By Kaye Tucker, 13 August 1999

The tragic news of a young girl infected with HIV via a blood transfusion has exposed serious problems in blood screening procedures in Australia. The girl, a primary school student, was given a transfusion during surgery at a major children's hospital in Melbourne. It is the first reported case of such an infection since blood products began being tested for HIV in 1985.

What is involved in the Genetically Modified Food debate?

By Chris Talbot, 9 August 1999

Hardly a week goes by in Britain without headlines related to genetically modified (GM) food, usually opposed to it. This week the Church of England decided that growing GM products in field tests on its land was unethical. Last week the aristocrat leader of Greenpeace, Lord Melchett, was arrested and jailed over night for leading a group who trashed a field full of GM crops which was part of government field tests. Britain was the one country where the big corporations manufacturing GM seeds, Monsanto, Novartis, etc., had hoped for a favourable response to give them a lead into the rest of Europe.

TB on the rise in Britain

By Barry Mason, 22 July 1999

The growing incidence of tuberculosis in Britain has prompted the formation of a campaign group, TB Alert. TB is caused by a bacterial infection, which can affect any part of the body, but most usually the lungs. The bacterium gradually destroys the tissues in which it is in contact. In TB of the lungs the infected person will develop a persistent cough which progressively gets worse. The coughing can often cause blood vessels to rupture and the person will cough up blood. It is accompanied by a gradual loss of weight, listlessness and high temperature. The bacteria are transmitted through the air, and so are is quite contagious, but the infection is usually caught only by living in close contact with an infected person.

AIDS is number one killer worldwide: Zimbabwe is worst hit country

By Barry Mason, 29 June 1999

AIDS is now the number one killer disease worldwide, ahead of malaria and tuberculosis. In 1998, four million people in sub-Saharan Africa became infected with HIV, joining approximately 34 million people affected worldwide. Since 1981 approximately 47 million people have contracted HIV, of which 14 million have died.

US pharmaceutical companies reap huge profits from AIDS drugs

By Debra Watson, 5 June 1999

The international financial crisis and growing world inequality dominated much of the roundtable discussion at the 1999 Annual World Health Assembly (WHA 1999). The World Health Organization (WHO) held its fifty-second annual meeting in May in Geneva, Switzerland. The AIDS roundtable included discussion by health ministers concerning the exorbitant cost of drug cocktails for AIDS patients in poor countries. “WHO should lobby for medicines. If technology is available, no one should be denied it,” said J. Kalweo, Minister of Health from Kenya.

Safety of genetically modified food questioned

Interview with gene scientist, Dr Arpad Pusztai

By Paul Mitchell, 3 June 1999

The British House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) has been investigating the nature of scientific advice to government. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the subject of its first report, published this month.

US study establishes link between dioxin and cancer

By Perla Astudillo, 1 June 1999

A recent study published in the journal of the US National Cancer institute provided conclusive evidence of the direct relationship between industry and the cancer-causing effects of the chemical dioxin. Generally ignored by the mainstream press, the study revealed that many thousands of workers in the US chemical industry died of all types of cancer-related illness as a result of exposure to the dioxin known as 2,3,7,8-tetrachorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD).

Cancer and social life

Review of Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment, by Sandra Steingraber

By Joanne Laurier, 13 May 1999

Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment, by Sandra Steingraber, Addison-Wesley, Reading, Massachusetts, 1997

Genes that kill malignant skin cancer cells

By Kaye Tucker, 28 April 1999

Is it possible that our own genes hold the key to finding new ways to fight cancer? Researchers at London's Brunel University think so. In February, they announced the discovery of two new genes that dramatically halt the growth of malignant melanoma, a type of skin cancer. It is hoped that by unlocking the secrets of how these genes work, scientists will be able to develop new ways to treat this deadly disease.

Further evidence that chemical crop sprays cause adverse health effects

By Paul Mitchell, 17 April 1999

Recent scientific research has pointed again to the far-reaching health effects of chemicals such as pesticides and weed killers. The results are published in New Scientist magazine. In an article, "It's raining pesticides", Stephan Müller and Thomas Bucheli of the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science show that rain water often contains pesticides above the limits allowed in drinking water. It is already well known that crop sprays drain into rivers and underground supplies, but the Swiss scientists say they can also evaporate from fields and become absorbed into clouds. The highest concentrations of such pollutants are found in the first rainfall after long dry periods.

Human BSE, nvCJD

Statistics point to increased incidence of brain-wasting disease in Britain

By Barry Mason, 23 March 1999

A research letter published in the Lancet medical journal points to a possible increase in the rate of people dying from new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (nvCJD), a fatal brain-wasting disease also called Human BSE.

On the origins of HIV

5 March 1999

Dear Editor,

In row over genetically modified food

Blair defends billionaire cabinet member

By Richard Tyler, 24 February 1999

Labour's close ties to big business are central to the ongoing row over genetically modified food. The storm that unfolded last week focussed on the role of Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science.

Origins of HIV virus identified

Impact of the pandemic continues to worsen

By Barry Mason, 19 February 1999

A recent article in the scientific magazine Nature explains that the main type of human immunodificiency virus, HIV-1, which causes AIDS, originates in a subspecies of chimpanzees from equatorial West Africa. The February 4 report details the work carried out by a group of researchers at the Department of Medicine and Microbiology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham led by Feng Goa. Monkeys carry viral infections similar to HIV, called simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV).

International scientists raise concerns over genetically modified food

British Labour government rushes to defend biotech industry

By Keith Lee and Richard Tyler, 17 February 1999

The Labour government has been rocked by a dispute over the possible health dangers posed by genetically modified food. Last week 20 scientists from 13 countries issued a memorandum supporting their colleague Dr. Arpad Pusztai's research into the possible harmful effects of genetically modified (GM) food.

Wollongong steelworks pumps out dangerous dioxins

Report confirms Workers Inquiry findings

By Peter Stavropoulos, 10 February 1999

BHP's Wollongong steelworks has been identified as Australia's largest source of emissions of dioxins--highly toxic chemicals that have been linked to birth defects and cancer, including lymphoma and leukaemia. A report by the environmental group Greenpeace cites estimates by the state Environmental Protection Agency that the Port Kembla complex releases 29 grams of dioxins into the air each year, with the greatest concentration in the sinter plant. BHP's Newcastle plant is the second highest source--emitting 24 grams a year.

Britain: new Food Standards Agency no occasion for restored confidence

By Jean Shaoul, 5 February 1999

The government has announced legislation setting up a Food Standards Agency to "protect public health and rebuild the public's trust in the machinery for handling food issues". Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, said, "This new, independent agency is good news for consumers. It will separate the different--and potentially conflicting--interests of food producers and food consumers."

A promising breakthrough in cancer research

By Perla Astudillo and Peter Symonds, 28 May 1998

New research by US medical scientist Dr Judah Folkman into the effect of two drugs, angiostatin and endostatin, on mice may prove to be a significant breakthrough in treating a broad range of cancers in humans.

A new type of breast cancer drug

By Kaye Tucker, 26 May 1998

At the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Dr Angelo Bianco announced the results of clinical trials, demonstrating the effectiveness on a new type of anti-cancer drug, Herceptin, in fighting advanced breast cancer.

Industry link to leukaemia and cancer confirmed

Australian Workers Inquiry answers government challenge

By Mike Head, 7 April 1998

Following a challenge by a state government agency, the Workers Inquiry into the leukaemia and cancer crisis in the Australian steel city of Wollongong has issued comprehensive new figures confirming a close relationship between cancer and industrial pollution.

International Labour Organization study

US provides least maternity support in industrialized world, Australia and New Zealand among worst providers

By David Walsh, 19 February 1998

A new study conducted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that the United States, Australia and New Zealand are the only industrialized nations that do not provide paid maternity leave and health benefits by law.

The libel action against Oprah Winfrey

US agribusiness attempts to silence debate on BSE

By Julie Hyland, 10 February 1998

The $12 million defamation suit brought by Texas cattle ranchers against talk show host Oprah Winfrey and one of her guests, Howard Lyman, is reaching its conclusion. The case, which is being heard in Amarillo, Texas, centers on comments made during Winfrey’s April 15, 1996 show that discussed the “mad cow” epidemic in Britain. Mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, became epidemic in Britain's herds in the 1980s.