Heart disease the biggest killer worldwide

Heart disease and tobacco ranked with conflict and violence among the world’s biggest killers last year, while poor diets and mental disorders caused people the greatest ill health, a large international study has found.

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The Global Burden of Disease study, published on Friday in The Lancet medical journal, found that while life expectancy is increasing, so too are the years people live in poor health. The proportion of life spent being ill is higher in poor countries than in wealthy ones.

“Death is a powerful motivator, both for individuals and for countries, to address diseases that have been killing us at high rates. But we’ve been much less motivated to address issues leading to illnesses,” said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which led the study.

He said a “triad of troubles” – obesity, conflict, and mental illness – is emerging as a “stubborn and persistent barrier to active and vigorous lifestyles”.

The IHME-led study, involving more than 2500 researchers in around 130 countries, found that in 2016, poor diet was associated with nearly one in five deaths worldwide. Tobacco smoking killed 7.1 million people.

Diets low in whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, fish oils and high in salt were the most common risk factors, contributing to cases of obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol.

The study found that deaths from firearms, conflict and terrorism have increased globally, and that non-communicable, or chronic, diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes caused 72 per cent of all deaths worldwide.

Heart disease was the leading cause of premature death in most regions and killed 9.48 million people globally in 2016.

Mental illness was found to have a heavy toll on individuals and societies, with 1.1 billion people living with psychological or psychiatric disorders and substance abuse problems in 2016.

Major depressive disorders ranked in the top 10 causes of ill health in all but four countries worldwide.

The GBD is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation global health charity and gives data estimates on some 330 diseases, causes of death and injuries in 195 countries and territories.

After 70 years, monument honours Australian peacekeepers

A new memorial pays tribute to thousands who have dedicated their lives to peacekeeping missions — one of whom has inspired a refugee to follow in their footsteps.

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Since 1947, over 80,000 Australians have served in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations around the world.

Now, that achievement has been marked with a new memorial in Canberra honouring all of those who served.

It has taken 12 years and numerous volunteers, veterans and supporters to create the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial.

It features two large, black, polished-concrete monoliths separated by a passageway, as well as a courtyard of reflection.

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove says the memorial is a tribute from all Australians.

“Today, we dedicate this memorial to our peacekeepers, to those who have served the nation, who have served mankind, to those who continue to serve, to those who have given their lives to this most noble of causes. This is their memorial and our nation’s tribute to them.”

Private Theogene Ngamije was one of dozens attending the ceremony to mark 70 years since Australian peacekeeping missions began.

Paying his respects, Private Ngamije said his life was changed 23 years ago by an Australian peacekeeper in a Rwandan refugee camp.

“There were bombings going on, and everyone was running everywhere. So … he gave me a biscuit and a patch of AMC, and he just took me to a safe place, myself and other kids. It was amazing. So when I got into Australia, I just wanted to step in his foot(steps) and serve as a soldier as well.”

Private Ngamije says the kindness came when he needed it most.

Former aid worker David Savage was wounded in Afghanistan when a child detonated a suicide bomb near his vehicle.

Mr Savage says the new memorial is about creating awareness within the community of the work actually involved in peacekeeping operations.

“I think it’s important to raise awareness in the community so that children, schoolkids, know the role of the military and the police and civilian contributions to peacekeeping, (so) that they don’t just go to war and fight battles, that they go unarmed to different conflicts and stand between the different warring factions to save people and to help bring peace, or to keep the peace, so that people can have a much better life.”

 

Checkup Medical Column for Sept 15

A weekly round-up of news affecting your health.

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EMBRYO TRANSFER

Couples undergoing IVF may have a better chance of having a baby if frozen embryos are used within about a month of their creation in the lab.

Researchers from Monash University and the University of Melbourne found that delaying the embryo transfer was associated with lower rates of pregnancy and live births.

They studied about 5000 women who had embryos transferred within 25 and 35 days and compared their outcomes with those who had 50-70 days of IVF stimulation cycle and embryo freeze.

Women who had a 25-35 days gap between embryo freeze and transfer had pregnancy rates of 33.2 per cent compared to 26.8 per cent of those with a gap of 50-70 days.

Live birth rates also improved from 21.5 per cent in the 50-70 days group, to 27.5 per cent in the 25-35 days group.

The researchers say while the study published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology is the largest of its kind, more trials are needed.

FACE MASKS

People wanting to protect themselves from being infected with the flu are better off wearing small respirators covering their nose and mouth than medical masks, researchers have found.

Masks are recommended in hospital infection control guidelines worldwide as the best way to protect health workers from infections spread by droplets, such as influenza.

University of NSW researchers put the recommendation to the test by examining data from two large randomised controlled trials involving 3591 people who either wore surgical masks or N95 respirators in Beijing.

They found the respirators provided superior protection for droplet-transmitted infections.

“Respirators are designed to provide respiratory protection through filtration and fit, and properly fitted respirators provide better protection compared to medical masks,” said their study, published in Wiley Online Library.

STROKE TREATMENT

Australian brain researchers are hopeful trials showing how experimental drugs can help reduce brain damage in rats and mice after a stroke may help develop future treatments for people.

The trials were carried out after Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health researchers discovered that a protein which plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease progression is also involved in stroke.

Levels of the protein, named tau, were found to drop following a stroke, and spark a build-up of iron in cells. That build up can then start killing off brain cells.

The researchers used five experimental drugs designed to stop the build up of iron in older rats and mice which had endured a stroke, and found they reduced brain damage by half.

The animals functioned significantly better on tests of motor coordination and cognitive performance, said the researchers, whose work was published in Molecular Psychiatry.

PREVENTING BLINDNESS

New artificial intelligence software could soon help speed up the process of testing people with diabetes for a condition that can cause blindness.

The technology was developed by the CSIRO so GPs can test people for diabetic retinopathy, which affects one in three people with diabetes and can cause them to go blind if left untreated.

The software has been trialled in Perth, where 187 diabetic patients had high resolution images of their eyes analysed for signs of diabetic retinopathy. The images were also analysed by an ophthalmologist.

The software was found to be as effective as the specialist in detecting signs of diabetic retinopathy and grading its severity.

“Patients at risk of this condition would usually be referred to a specialist for screening, waiting six weeks or more – now it can potentially be done in a single 30-minute visit to a GP,” CSIRO Professor Yogi Kanagasingam said.

The software has been licensed by TeleMedC, which plans to install it at 20 GP clinics in Western Australia before rolling it out across Australia.

FOOT CONTROL

Researchers in Queensland are trialling a foot control device to see if it can help improve the walking ability of young people with cerebral palsy.

Problems with foot control can affect and reduce independence for people with cerebral palsy.

Researchers from the University of Queensland have developed new equipment and a training program they want to trial among 15 to 25 year olds who are diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy and can walk independently, with or without an aid.

Paricipants will receive six weeks of supervised training including assessments on foot control during walking and while performing tasks in the custom-designed ankle device.

“The device has been designed to teach the brain to use muscles at the right time with the right amount of force in a progressive manner,” researcher Shari O’Brien said.

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‘Unfathomable’: Eight die in Florida nursing home after Hurricane Irma

The nursing home deaths brought the total number of storm-related fatalities in Florida to 20 and illustrated the urgency of restoring electricity to millions of people across the southern state.

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Around 115 residents of the retirement home in Hollywood, north of Miami, were immediately evacuated after a nearby hospital began receiving patients suffering from heat-related problems.

“It’s a sad event,” Hollywood police chief Tomas Sanchez told a news conference. “We believe at this time they (the deaths) may be related to the loss of power in the storm.”

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Governor Rick Scott said he was “absolutely heartbroken” to learn of the deaths of the elderly retirees.

“I am going to aggressively demand answers on how this tragic event took place,” Scott said in a statement. “Although the details of these reported deaths are still under investigation, this situation is unfathomable.”

The governor said he has ordered a probe by state authorities.

“If they find that anyone wasn’t acting in the best interests of their patients, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Sanchez, the police chief, said a criminal investigation had been launched.

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Dr. Randy Katz, medical director of the emergency department at Memorial Regional Hospital, said the hospital began receiving patients early on Wednesday.

“(We) quickly identified some issues inside the facility with fire rescue and immediately evacuated the building,” Katz said.

He said most of the patients admitted to the hospital have been treated for respiratory distress, dehydration and heat-related issues.

Florida officials have made restoring electricity to the millions who have lost power a priority and tens of thousands of utility company workers, many from out of state, are engaged in the huge effort.

Heartbreak for some returnees

Florida residents who evacuated ahead of the storm were facing lengthy traffic jams, meanwhile, as they returned to check out their homes after days in shelters or with friends or family.

Irma, which made landfall Sunday morning in the Florida Keys as a Category Four hurricane, had triggered orders for more than six million people to flee to safety, one of the biggest evacuations in US history.

Some residents of the Keys were met with scenes of devastation on Tuesday after police lifted roadblocks and began allowing people to return to the string of islands off Florida’s southern coast.

At least a quarter of the homes in the Keys were destroyed, according to federal emergency management officials, and 65 percent suffered some damage.

The storm also cut off power, water and sewage to the islands, which are home to some 70,000 people.

“Bad, it’s real bad,” Keys resident Bryan Holley told NBC News.

“It’s gonna take months, maybe years to get this cleaned up,” said Holley, who ignored orders to evacuate and braved the storm on Cudjoe Key.

President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, were to visit Florida to survey the damage on Thursday.

Macron pledges relief fund

French President Emmanuel Macron was visiting the Caribbean island of Saint Barthelemy on Wednesday, a day after travelling to the French-Dutch island of Saint Martin.

France, Britain and the Netherlands have come in for criticism for the pace of relief efforts for their overseas territories ravaged by the storm.

Islanders have complained of a breakdown in law and order and widespread shortages of food, water and electricity.

Touring Saint Martin, Macron was at times jeered by people waiting for aid supplies or hoping to catch flights for France in order to escape the devastation across the island.

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Macron pledged on Saint Barthelemy, population 9,000, that an emergency relief fund for victims would be operational by Monday.

Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage in the French and Dutch overseas territories as well as the British and US Virgin Islands.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was visiting the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla on Wednesday and pledged “absolute commitment” to Britons there.

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His visit came as British Prime Minister Theresa May announced an extra £25 million ($33.2 million, 27.2 million euros) in aid for Caribbean territories devastated by Hurricane Irma.

A day earlier Johnson visited Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, and met with some of the nearly 1,000 British military personnel sent to bolster relief efforts and security.

King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has also toured Sint Maarten, the Dutch section of the island shared with France, meeting residents on Saba island, and was set to travel to Sint Eustatius, which suffered severe damage.

Turnbull marks two years as prime minister

Malcolm Turnbull has avoided both triumphalism and magnanimity in acknowledging his two years as prime minister.

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He’s now Australia’s 19th longest-serving prime minister – past arch rival Tony Abbott but short of Labor contemporaries Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

Constrained by simmering tensions inside the coalition over energy policy and same-sex marriage, a business-like Mr Turnbull rattled off his re-elected government’s achievements of the past year on Friday.

The “occasionally satirised” jobs and growth mantra of his 2016 election campaign was now an outcome, he said, with 325,000 new jobs and signs of a sluggish economy – but not wage growth – on the mend.

The government had delivered tax cuts to companies with an annual turnover of up to $50 million and Australians earning more than $80,000.

Then there was historic education reform: transparent, universal, consistent needs-based federal funding for Australian schools.

“It has never, ever been done before, ” Mr Turnbull told Sky News, taking a shot at previous Labor governments for only genuflecting in that direction.

The new message for voters is a government focused on opportunity, security and fairness.

But two of his predecessors are threatening to inflame internal tensions that have plagued Mr Turnbull’s government since he toppled Mr Abbott in 2015.

John Howard – the Liberal Party’s second-longest serving prime minister – this week made a none-too-subtle intervention in the same-sex marriage debate, accusing the government of “washing its hands” of any responsibility to protect parental rights, free speech and religious freedoms.

It was an abrogation of responsibility and disingenuous for the government not to address the legitimate concerns of Australians about the legal protections needed to accompany same-sex marriage, he said.

Mr Turnbull couldn’t resist a not-so-gentle rejoinder while acknowledging “John’s wisdom is always welcome”.

But the former prime minister, despite his concerns, hadn’t bothered to make a submission to a Senate inquiry which considered what religious protections should be included in a bill legalising same-sex marriage.

Then there’s Tony Abbott, who this week was re-writing what Australia actually agreed to when it signed up to the Paris climate agreement in 2015.

As prime minister, Mr Abbott made a “definite commitment” to a 26 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and aim for 28 per cent.

This week that target was “aspirational”.

“It was what we would do if we could,” he said, noting the agreement wasn’t binding.

Not in fact the case, Mr Turnbull said.

“It was a real commitment and as Tony said at the time, Australia is one of those nations that when it makes commitments it keeps them,” he said.

On an issue that refuses to go away – the holding of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island and Nauru – Mr Turnbull described himself as a compassionate man.

That compassion, however, was limited to resettling them in a third country and not allowing people smugglers to put people’s lives at risk and having families die at sea.

“We have to be absolutely resolute,” said a like-minded prime minister.