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Health Highlights: Dec. 26, 2006

Bush AIDS Effort Hampered by Poor Records Schwarzenegger Has Surgery on Broken Leg Spanish Cancer Specialist Aiding Castro: Report Medicaid Whistle-Blower Law Goes Into Effect Jan. 1 New Antibiotic Could Cut Dosage Time

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Bush AIDS Effort Hampered by Poor Records

Investigators have found that President George Bush's ambitious $15-billion program to fight AIDS in poor countries has suffered from poor record-keeping in its attempt to push for fast results.

A review of the three-year-old program found that it had both over-counted and undercounted thousands of patients it helped and, in some cases, was unable to verify claims of success by groups that took U.S. money to prevent the spread of disease or care for AIDS victims and their children, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. The Bush administration says it has worked to fix the problems that were found in multiple countries and outlined in several audits reviewed by the AP.

Joe Farinella, the assistant inspector general who oversaw the investigations into how U.S. AIDS money was spent overseas in 2004 and 2005, said, "It's not good enough for the auditors to hear from the mission that we did A, B and C but we can't prove it to you, or there's no documentation to prove that we did it."

Farinella told AP that many aid recipients failed to keep records that would provide "reasonable assurance that what they say was done was in fact carried out." The inspector general will recommend that the administration clarify its directives and improve reporting methods.

In the case of Guyana, for example, incorrect numbers made it into this year's annual report to Congress. Guyana cited services to 5,200 AIDS orphans, but auditors documented fewer than 300, many of them not even affected by AIDS.


Schwarzenegger Has Surgery on Broken Leg

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was cleared to resume official duties Tuesday after he had successful surgery to repair a broken right thigh bone, fractured during a weekend family ski trip to Sun Valley, Idaho.

The 59-year-old Schwarzenegger had a 90-minute operation in which cables and screws were used to wire the broken bone back together, the Associated Press reported. The former bodybuilder and action-film star was expected to make a full recovery but will probably be on crutches for his second inauguration next month in Sacramento.

Schwarzenegger is expected to stay in the hospital for three days. The leg will take about eight weeks to heal, said a prepared statement by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kevin Ehrhart, who performed the operation at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica.


Spanish Cancer Specialist Aiding Castro: Report

Spanish health officials have been sending medicine to Havana for Fidel Castro since June, a government official said Monday, and confirmed that a cancer specialist is also consulting on whether the ailing 80-year-old leader should undergo more surgery.

Madrid Public Health Commissioner Manuel Lamela declined to discuss either the medication or Castro's condition during a Christmas Day visit with the staff and patients at the Baby Jesus Hospital in Madrid, the Miami Herald reported on Tuesday. '"If I did, I would be revealing the patient's pathology," Lamela told the newspaper, "and we would be violating medical confidentiality and the Cuban government's media policy." Lamela did confirm, however, that Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, chief of surgery at Madrid's Gregorio Maranon General Hospital, had traveled to Havana last Thursday and that Spain would continue to support and assistance the Cuban government.

Castro, whose medical condition is a state secret, has not appeared in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July -- after the Spanish medical shipments had begun, the Herald reported. His younger brother, Raul, 75, is in charge of the government. Cuban authorities deny that Castro suffers from terminal cancer -- as U.S. and other officials allege -- but have been less insistent of late that he will return to power.

The Spanish surgeon treating Castro told the Associated Press on Tuesday that his patient does not have cancer and is recovering slowly from a serious operation.


Medicaid Whistle-Blower Law Goes Into Effect Jan. 1

Whistle-blowing in the U.S. healthcare industry is now a law, and with that novel accomplishment comes some serious challenges, the New York Times reports.

Managers of most hospitals and nursing homes will have to develop programs to teach their employees how to detect fraud and other illegal activities and to report them, the newspaper says. Not all health organizations are aware of the new law.

According to the Times, many health care organizations, such as hospitals and nursing homes, didn't know about the law when the newspaper contacted them last week.

The new provision is part the Deficit Reduction Act, signed into law last February. According to the newspaper, companies that do at least $5 million a year in Medicaid business as of Jan. 1, 2007 must teach employees waste and fraud detection, explain to them that they are bound by law to report anything they find, and promise them that they will be protected and possibly receive a monetary reward.

Is there much Medicaid fraud going on? According to the Times, the government recovered a record $3.1 billion in fraud and malfeasance paybacks this year, which was a record. Of that amount, health care paybacks were 72 percent.


New Antibiotic Could Cut Dosage Time

British scientists are close to testing on humans an antibiotic they hope will reduce the amount of time a patient has to take a drug to get rid of a bacterial infection.

BBC News reports that London researchers have developed an antibiotic they call HT61, and it has shown promising laboratory results against one of the most antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the hospital superbug methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Clive Page, professor of pharmacology at King's College London, one of the researchers, is quoted by BBC News as saying, "It [HT61]may lead us to providing a combination of drugs -- one to target the dividing bacteria and one to target the persistent form."

"If you take something like penicillin, and put this with it, you might be able to get a treatment course which lasts one or two days, rather than the current five to seven," Page concluded.

The scientists say they hope to start human testing next year, and if the trials are successful, offer the antibiotic to the public in five years.

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