Health Highlights: July 14, 2004
Internal Report Faults USDA Mad Cow Inspection U.S. Snubs U.N. Chief on AIDS Funding Washington OK's Stem Cell Bank for Existing Lines Study: 3.8 Million Will Lose Drug Benefits When Medicare Kicks In FDA Says It Purchased Bogus Canadian Drugs
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Internal Report Faults USDA Mad Cow Inspection
An internal report says the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has failed to test hundreds of cattle who displayed symptoms of a nervous system disorder that could have been mad cow disease.
The report, prepared by the USDA's Office of Inspector General and released by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a frequent critic of the agency, also found the USDA to be uncooperative with investigators.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the report said the USDA has provided little documentation about what kinds of cows are being tested. The agency also failed to consider that apparently healthy cattle could carry bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the formal name for the disease.
Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told the Times that the report was based on a "snapshot" taken in March, and that those problems have been addressed in an updated inspection program.
U.S. Snubs U.N. Chief on AIDS Funding
The Bush administration answered a flat-out "no" on Wednesday to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan's request that the United States donate $1 billion in 2005 to a U.N. global fund to combat AIDS, the Associated Press reported.
"It's not going to happen," the wire service quoted U.S. AIDS coordinator Randall Tobias as saying. Tobias noted that Washington already is the world's largest donor to fighting AIDS.
Annan made his plea at the International AIDS Conference in Thailand, where he announced that the Global Fund to fight AIDS was well short of its $3.6 billion goal for 2005, the AP reported.
The United States is in the midst of carrying out a $15 billion, five-year plan for AIDS relief, mainly directed at sub-Saharan Africa. That money goes to countries that support Bush's abstinence-first policies, according to the wire service.
Some critics have instead called for the United States to give much of that money to the U.N. Global Fund, which reaches 128 countries.
Washington OK's Stem Cell Bank for Existing Lines
Responding to claims that existing stem cell lines sanctioned by President Bush for scientific research are difficult to access, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it will open a national stem cell bank to harvest those existing lines.
"The president's embryonic stem cell policy holds tremendous and yet-untapped potential," said Wednesday's announcement -- in the form of a letter from HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to members of Congress. But critics responded that the letter falls far short of their calls to lift three-year-old restrictions on the controversial cells, which are harvested from human embryos that are later destroyed.
Scientists say research on the cells could lead to cures for a range of diseases from Parkinson's to Alzheimer's. In 2001, Bush imposed limits on the cells, saying only lines then in existence could be used in government-funded studies.
Critics of Bush's policy say it's stifling groundbreaking research, the Associated Press reported. Wednesday's announcement is "window dressing," Keith Yamamoto, executive vice medical dean at the University of California at San Francisco, told the wire service.
In related news, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Ron Reagan, son of the late president, will address the Democratic National Convention later this month over the issue of stem cell research. Since the death of the former Republican president last month, Ron Reagan and his mother, Nancy, have spoken publicly against Bush's stem-cell policies.
Study: 3.8 Million Will Lose Drug Benefits When Medicare Kicks In
Prescription drug benefits are likely to be curtailed or ended for one-third of all retirees with employer-sponsored prescription drug coverage once the Medicare drug plan begins in 2006, according to new government estimates cited by The New York Times.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services analysis says the actions by private employers is likely to leave 3.8 million retirees with fewer or no drug benefits, the newspaper reported.
The analysis appears to contradict the claims of senior department officials, who have said for weeks that they expect that federal subsidies will encourage the private employers to retain the retiree benefits, the Times said.
Under the new Medicare law, the government has budgeted $71 billion on subsidies to employers from 2006 to 2013. To qualify for a subsidy, each employer would have to certify that its drug plan is worth at least as much as the standard Medicare benefit, according to the Times account.
FDA Says It Purchased Bogus Canadian Drugs
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it's offering new proof that the burgeoning practice of Americans buying less expensive drugs from Canada is unsafe.
In a statement on its Web site, the agency says it bought three popular drugs online labeled "Canadian Generics" that wound up being fake, substandard and potentially dangerous.
The agency said the purchases were made from an unidentified Web site that had been spamming e-mail accounts with claims to sell generic versions of Viagra (impotence), Lipitor (cholesterol), and Ambien (insomnia).
Not only aren't generic versions of any of those drugs legal, the FDA statement said, but the products purchased frequently contained too much or too little of the active ingredient.
The version of Ambien, for example, was "superpotent," the agency said, which put users at risk for central nervous system depression, especially among elderly patients.
Testing on the "generic" versions of Viagra and Lipitor, by contrast, found that the products had too little of the active ingredients, the agency said.