What’s Happening in the World of Healthcare?

In the era of mass travel and mass media, the growing amount of frequent travellers and distribution of information is incredible. We are more aware than ever of world news, including the latest innovations and medical breakthroughs as well as threatening epidemics and pandemics.

When dangerous diseases cross borders or oceans even more awareness should be created, but good news should be shared too. This blog post will give an overview of recent updates in the world of healthcare.

THE THREATS

Measles Outbreak in Europe:

The virus continues to spread and take lives in Europe. In the past 12 months measles has led to 35 fatalities: 1 in Portugal, 1 in Germany, 2 in Italy and 31 in Romania.

The people most at risk are those who:

  • refuse to vaccinate,
  • don't have access to vaccines and
  • can’t benefit from vaccines due to underlying health conditions.

“Every death or disability caused by this vaccine-preventable disease is an unacceptable tragedy,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “We are very concerned that although a safe, effective and affordable vaccine is available, measles remains a leading cause of death among children worldwide, and unfortunately Europe is not spared. Working closely with health authorities in all European affected countries is our priority to control the outbreaks and maintain high vaccination coverage for all sections of the population.”

Countries are adopting measures to increase coverage rates for routine vaccinations. Official strategies to address this serious development and improve vaccination coverage are also underway. Press Release | Copenhagen, 11 July 2017

Risk Factors for Prediabetes

According to experts, there are 11 risks that qualify patients for a prediabetes screening. A survey completed by 140 primary care physicians at a medical update retreat indicated that these doctors could not identify all the risk factors. More surveys aimed at testing knowledge of current professional guidelines for such screening are said to follow

"Primary care providers play a vital role in screening and identifying patients at risk for developing diabetes. This study highlights the importance of increasing provider knowledge and availability of resources to help patients reduce their risk of diabetes," says Nisa Maruthur, assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (senior author of the referenced paper).

HIV Drug Resistance – A New Threat

When individuals with HIV do not stick to their treatment plan, HIV drug resistance can occur. This very unfortunate and alarming occurrence is often caused by inconsistent access to (quality) care and treatment. Initially, those with HIV drug resistance will start to fail therapy and drug-resistant viruses could be transmitted to others. If an alternative treatment is not obtained, which is often likely, HIV levels in blood will increase.

The number of those affected continues to grow. In 6 of the 11 countries surveyed in Africa, Asia and Latin America, more than 10% of people who started antiretroviral therapy had a strain of HIV already resistant to a few of the widely used HIV medicines. Insights from WHO’s HIV drug resistance report 2017.

"We need to ensure that people who start treatment can stay on effective treatment, to prevent the emergence of HIV drug resistance," said Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of WHO’s HIV Department and Global Hepatitis Programme. “When levels of HIV drug resistance become high we recommend that countries shift to an alternative first-line therapy for those who are starting treatment.”

Dealing with this issue will require the involvement of many partners. WHO is ready, with tools, to help countries monitor the resistance, improve treatment and transition to new HIV treatments, if necessary.

THE GOOD NEWS

Hope for Stroke Patients

Scientists have developed an algorithm that can help patients who suffered neurological injuries such as strokes and spinal cord injuries walk again. The personalised algorithm that enables robot-assistive rehabilitation is being investigated in a clinical trial. Existing rehabilitation programmes mainly involve supported walking on treadmills. This is not sufficient for improving movement in all directions, including the ability to vary gait, which everyday life requires. A robotic harness, used by Jean-Baptiste Mignardot and his colleagues, helps resist the downward force of gravity and allows subjects to walk in all directions. Here, the algorithm comes in to provide personalised support to address patient-specific motor defects.

So far, significant improvements in unsupported walking ability have been recorded.

Brain Damage Reversed in Drowned Toddler: A ‘World First’

In February 2016, 2-year-old Eden Carlson drowned in their family pool after breaking through a baby gate. She was retrieved from 5ºc water and received CPR from her mother before being rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment. Two hours later there was still no heartbeat. Incredibly she was resuscitated, but only to remain in hospital, immobile and unresponsive to stimuli. She could only squirm and shake her head; not walk, talk or respond to voices.

Then, Eden received normobaric oxygen treatments from Dr. Paul Harch of the LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine. Miraculously, the treatments caused immediate and noticeable success. After more therapy, namely HBOT (hyperbaric oxygen therapy in a total body chamber), all signs of muscular dystrophy and brain damage had essentially been reversed.

“The startling regrowth of tissue in this case occurred because we were able to intervene early in a growing child, before long-term tissue degeneration,” notes Harch. “Although it’s impossible to conclude from this single case if the sequential application of normobaric oxygen, then HBOT, would be more effective than HBOT alone, in the absence of HBOT therapy, short duration, repetitive normobaric oxygen therapy may be an option until HBOT is available. Such low-risk medical treatment may have a profound effect on recovery of function in similar patients who are neurologically devastated by drowning.”

Child with HIV: ‘Virtually Cured’

With all the growing concerns surrounding HIV, this story is welcome news.

A 9-year-old South African boy, who supposedly inherited HIV from his mother, only received treatment for 40 weeks, which started one month after birth. Today, he shows no signs of the virus, suggesting that he is ‘virtually cured’. This is a breakthrough as other HIV-infected patients need consistent, lifelong anti-HIV treatments to manage the virus.

“To our knowledge, this is the first reported case of sustained control of HIV in a child enrolled in a randomised trial of ART ( antiretroviral therapy) interruption following treatment early in infancy,” said Avy Violari, co-leader of the study.

“Further study is needed to learn how to induce long-term HIV remission in infected babies,” said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the NIAID. “However, this new case strengthens our hope that by treating HIV-infected children for a brief period beginning in infancy, we may be able to spare them the burden of lifelong therapy and the health consequences of long-term immune activation typically associated with HIV disease.”

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