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Doctor2008’s Top Healthcare Stories of 2010

As we herald the new decade, and leave 2010 behind, the year seemed devoid of blockbuster healthcare issues, but I subsequently changed my mind upon deeper review. Here’s my updated  list:

1. The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill – the sheer magnitude of this man-made disaster on the environment is mind-boggling. 5 million barrels of crude oil were spilled from April to July, causing permanent ecological damage to 1000 miles of coastline, adverse effects on the fishing and tourism industry, poisoning of the global food chain, not to mention the 11 lives lost during the explosion.

A brown pelican grounded by oil slick at a Florida beach (AP)

2. Haiti Double Whammy – the January earthquake resulted in a quarter million deaths with over 300,000 injured. Barely had the people recovered from the economic and health effects, when the spectre of cholera, never before seen in Haiti, appeared in October, causing over 3,300 deaths, as at end-December.

Cholera, largely due to over-crowding and poor sanitation, is causing 50 deaths a day in Haiti

3. AIDS breakthrough – among the doom and gloom, AIDS treatment research made tremendous breakthrough in 2010. Among the good news:

  • Men taking Gilead’s pill Truvada daily as a preventive measure reduced their risk of catching HIV by 44%.
  • U.S. government scientists also discovered two potent human antibodies that can stop more than 90% of known global HIV strains from infecting human cells, thus giving hope for a vaccine to prevent AIDS.

AIDS Vaccine - nearing Reality in 2011

4. The Battle of the Bulge – I had written in an earlier posting that practically all slimming pills have been banned due to safety reasons (see Where Have All The Slimming Pills Gone? Taking that obesity is a major healthcare issue worldwide, the pharma industry is racing to produce a safe diet pill which will produce a block-buster which will bring in untold profits. While the FDA rejected Arena’s lorcaserin and Vivus’s Qnexa, Orexigen Therapeutics’s  Contrave had received a thumbs up.

Contrave - recently obtained FDA approval as a diet pill

5. CPR Change – for as long as many care to remember, CPR meant a combination of chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing, the latter a common reason why bystanders were somewhat reluctant to get involved, In 2010, new guidelines were introduced where the so-called  kiss of  life was abolished. Read my post here.

6. Misleading Marketing by Cord Blood Banks – ABC News found the costs of private banking outweigh the potential benefits to many families.

In their marketing material, many private banking firms tout an impressive list of 70 to 80 diseases that purportedly are treated by stem cell transplants. But research has yet to prove that stem cells from cord blood work for all of the listed conditions. Private cord blood banks store blood on the possibility that in the future, there will be diseases that will affect the baby for which stem cells found in the cord blood can be used then to cure the disease.

A baby's cord blood is stored in banks, to be used in the future to cure diseases which may affict the child -myth or reality?

 

 

Where Have All The Slimming Pills Gone?

Looking for slimming pills? Don’t look too far, because virtually all the known slimming pills introduced over the last few decades have  all been banned or for restricted usage only. Whether its phentermine (Duromine, Adipex), ephedrine (Ephedra), rimonobant (Accomplia) or sibutramine (Reductil,Meridia) they’ve all fallen by the wayside due to their dangerous side-effects.

 

Impressive weight-loss ads often detract the consumer from the dangers of diet-pills

 

 

Duromine, one of the earliest slimming pills, is now indicated for short-term use only (I take it to mean less than 3 months) and can only be used in those who do not have a long list of medical conditions (see here). Since it is related to amphetamines (speed), it is very much a controlled substance and available only on doctors’ prescription.

Accomplia practically did not see the light of day, after it was banned within 2 years of use, after a significant percentage showed suicidal behaviour . I had written in an earlier posting here.

Latest to be banned in the US this month is sibutramine because of the high incidence of heart attacks and stroke. As I’ve said before, the Europeans seem to be more responsive and alert, having put this drug in cold storage since January this year.

However, the more worrying issue is that sibutramine has been found in several so-called herbal preparations. Examples include:

  • a Chinese herbal medicine, called “LiDa Dai Dai Hua Jiao Nang”, available on the Internet.
  • a Canadian product “The Slimming Coffee”.
  • In Malaysia, “Slimway Herbs” has been banned after earlier obtaining official approval.

 

Many Drinks and Herbal products contain sibutramine

 

 

So what drugs can be used safely?  Orlistat (sold as Xenical in prescription form and as Alli over the counter) is now the only prescription weight-loss drug approved for long-term use. The drawback of using this drug, as users will tell you, is that it “leaks” and stains trousers and clothing and wherever you sit down. The reason is that it works by preventing absorption of foods containing oil and fats, which then come out the other way (read “leaks out the other passage”!).

I guess the message is loud and clear – to lose weight, you have to fall back to good old diet and exercise!

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