Human Interest

Top ten ways to an early grave

London - Bad habits like drinking, smoking and overeating, once the preserve of the rich, are taking a hold in developing nations, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.In a report on one of its largest research projects yet, it said the top 10 killers, in order of deadliness, were: 1. Malnourishment 2. Unsafe sex 3. High blood pressure 4. Smoking 5. Alcohol 6. Bad water and poor sanitation 7. Iron deficiency 8. Smoke inhalation from indoor fires 9. High cholesterol 10.Obesity Chris Morris, author of the WHO's World Health Report 2002, said this report is a signpost for public health policy. The report said the top 10 killers accounted for more than one-third of the 56-million deaths around the world annually. The report also slated the large amount of salt added to industrially produced food like bread. Salt reduction was the most cost-effective way of tackling high blood pressure, it said, and legislation was the most reliable way of bringing this about. This report shows the world is living dangerously - because it has little choice - or because it is making the wrong choices. Not all is doom and gloom though, as the WHO officials have said that many of the risk factors can be reversed quickly. (Source- Reuters, Sapa-AFP, Cape Times, 30 October 2002)

Mining diseases unacceptably high

The burden of disease resulting from working in mines is unacceptably high in South Africa, Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said on Tuesday. Speaking in the National Assembly during debate on the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Amendment Bill, she said about 25 000 compensation applications were made each year for occupational lung diseases resulting from working in mines. In the past, occupational health has often been neglected, and yet the fact remains that globally over one million workers die from work-related diseases and injuries, and there are over 160-million cases of work-related diseases annually. The amendments in the bill might appear to be minor, but had far-reaching implications, as they will unblock some of the problems experienced thus far, she said. Among other things, the bill extended the length of time during which an ex-miner could apply to be medically examined from six to 24 months. Tshabalala-Msimang said one of the most important provisions in the bill was one that limited commission for agents who assisted mineworkers in accessing compensation. A fee of not more than half a percent of the benefit paid to the sick worker could be charged, and the bill made it an offence to charge more. The measure received the support of all sides of the House, and will now go to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence.(Source:SAPA, 22 October 2002)

Break the silence on Aids - minister

National Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang urged society to break its silence over HIV/AIDS. This silence, she said, made it difficult for people to reveal their status. Thousands of people from one of the most AIDS-ravaged areas in the world lit candles for those they had lost to the disease and for family and friends living with it at a candlelight memorial earlier this week (Sunday). Openly weeping, many said for the first time they were speaking about how HIV/AIDS was affecting their lives. Tshabalala-Msimang said the candlelight memorial was a reminder not to focus on illnesses and the statistics but on the people who are affected - the woman who has lost her partner, the orphan who has lost a parent, the grandmother who is caring for her daughter's children. The theme for this year's candlelight memorial was Share your vision for a brighter tomorrow. The minister said this message was needed to encourage individuals to share their personal vision with others - to create the future we dream about. Referring to the fact that something could be done to prevent unborn babies from getting the infection, she said it was more important for women to find out their status before they even fell pregnant so that they and their partners could make proper decisions about their lives. She said if the call to volunteerism was heeded it would not be difficult for us to look after those who are ill and who need care. Orphans will be taken care of in our communities. In this way we can overcome the challenges of this epidemic. Her personal vision for HIV and Aids was a South Africa where every citizen plays their special and unique role in preventing further spread of HIV. I have a vision of a South Africa united as never before, united and committed to a common action and a deep resolve to stop this pandemic. (Source: IOL, May 20 2002)

Nevirapine trials controversy

There have recently been a number of media reports that Boeringer-Ingelheim's application to the Food and Drug Authority of the USA for the registration of Nevirapine was withdrawn due to irregularities and deficiencies related to the HIVNet 012 trail in Uganda. (This was the first field study that demonstrated the efficacy of NVP to reduce mother to child transmission). The irregularities and deficiencies relate to documentation procedures and DO NOT relate to any of the substantive findings on both the efficacy and safety of NVP. Included in the full text are press statements made by WHO/UNAIDS, CDC, Boeringer Ingelheim, National Institute of Health (USA) and the Elizabeth Glaser Foundation. They all essentially state that NVP still works and is still safe.

Medicinal plant faces scientific test

A medicinal plant used in Africa for centuries to boost immunity - and currently being taken by people with HIV - is to be tested by scientists in a clinical trial next year. This follows a growing body of scientific research, medical reports and anecdotal evidence that the plant, Sutherlandia, helps those with HIV and other diseases that compromise the immune system, to gain weight and fight infection. The Medical Research Council (MRC) is setting up a phase I/II trial on Sutherlandia (referred to locally as unwele), and its ethics committee has already approved the terms of the trial. The trial will involve 40 people and look at safety as well as some aspects of efficacy. According to the MRC, the pilot trial will start once we have approval from the Medicines Control Council. Renowned traditional healer Credo Mutwa is also part of Phyto Nova, a unique enterprise that brings together South African scientists and traditional healers committed to using indigenous remedies to treat diseases such as HIV/AIDS. A local pharmaceutical manufacturing company has linked up with Phyto Nova to manufacture Sutherlandia tablets countrywide, and Phyto Nova has taken a principled decision not to patent any part of the plant. The Sutherlandia tablets will hit the shelves of the retail chain Discom within the next two weeks, retailing at R16,99 for two weeks' supply. Sutherlandia is one of a basket of natural remedies being distributed by Discom to boost immune-compromised people who cannot afford expensive drugs. Other remedies available are tablets of the African potato (retailing as Labatheka), Spirulina and Aloe Vera. Extensive research by botanist Professor Ben-Erik van Wyk from Rand Afrikaans University and medical scientist Dr Carl Albrecht of Stellenbosch University has found that compounds in the plant have anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal activities. It also contains a natural anti-depressant. Gericke says the plant is safe to use and no severe side effects have been reported. In the interest of public health, formal scientific safety studies are currently underway at MRC facilities funded by the National Research Foundation. Should the MRC trial confirm anecdotal reports that Sutherlandia improves appetite, mediates weight gain and boosts the immune system, this is likely to greatly increase the demand for Sutherlandia tablets as well as providing an affordable local weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS. (Source: Health-e News Service, 30 November 2001.)

Mandela urges business to get involved in HIV/AIDS

Former President Nelson Mandela urged business leaders in South Africa on Saturday to follow the examples of others who had become involved in sponsoring various AIDS projects. Speaking at a belated birthday bash at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital near Soweto, he said that all sectors of society should form a solid and united front to tackle the epidemic which was the toughest challenge facing the country. Mandela praised a large banking institution that has pledged to give R1 million for AIDS orphans and families. He said religious leaders should lead the battle against the silent killer by showing communities how they baptised, cuddled and counselled people infected with HIV. He said that people should not treat those who were infected as though they were living in the shadow of a death sentence. Mandela condemned the actions of the ignorant who had killed people like Dudu Dhlamini, a KwaZulu-Natal AIDS worker, when she revealed her HIV positive status. He said that stigmatising people who had the disease served no purpose. He said that celebrities like Princess Diana had been seen visiting the sick and dying, she had held their hands and talked to them. If a British princess can be seen treating HIV infected people like ordinary humans, then who are we to treat them any differently. Those who have HIV/AIDS deserve to be treated with dignity, said Mandela. (Source: SAPA, 21 July 2001)

Back to Basics for Health Care

Providing anti-retroviral drugs and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV are not always feasible with South Africa's health-care infrastructure. Now that we've celebrated a victory over multi-national pharmaceutical companies for access to cheaper medicines, what are we going to do about preventing mother-to-child transmission of Aids and access to anti-retroviral drugs?

In search of voluntary HIV testing and counselling

Voluntary HIV testing and counselling is essential for HIV prevention but as yet few health facilities in South Africa provide the service. The national health department’s Directorate for HIV/AIDS and STDs does not have accurate recent figures regarding available voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services but the bottom-line, says MsThembela Masuku, Deputy-Director of Counselling Programmes, is that it is still limited.