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Friday, December 19, 2008

What's in the news: Dec. 19 -- Common pelvic pain drug is useless: study

A round-up of Canadian health news, from coast to coast to coast and beyond, for Friday, December 19.

A drug commonly prescribed to treat for chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome in men, alfuzosin, turns out not to be any more effective than placebo, a Queen's University study reported in today's New England Journal of Medicine. [NEJM abstract] "In medical research, it is as important to find out which treatments are effective, as well as those which are not beneficial," Griffin Rodgers, the director of the US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, said in a release. "Now researchers can focus their efforts on more promising therapies." [Queen's University news release]

The first-ever transmission of vaccine-derived polio in a developed country, identified in an Amish infant in Minnesota, was reported by a team of Canadian, American and British researchers. [Journal of Infectious Diseases abstract]

Economic uncertainty has prompted the British Columbia Ministry of Health to ask the province's health authorities to delay submitting their service plans by two months, a move that created no small amount of confusion. "As a result of the current challenges in the economy, it's taking a little longer this year to define what the allocations might be. The discussion is being deferred until February which will still allow health authorities time to plan accordingly," a government spokesperson told The Tyee. NDP health critic Adrian Dix pounced immediately, telling the news website, "Presumably what this means is not that they won't be planning, but that they won't be planning on paper in a way that will embarrass the government... Clearly the health authorities as created by the Premier are not working very well... The Premier said he was going to bring new management and instead he's brought chaos." [The Tyee]

A $30 million class action lawsuit against The Ottawa Hospital has been launched on behalf of cancer patients who received smaller doses of radiation than they had been prescribed because a machine was not been calibrated correctly. [Connally Obagi LLP news release]

A Canadian-designed blood test for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) achieved 100% sensitivity and 100% specificity in a recent British trial. "The company has 50,000 test kits available to begin large-scale testing to determine the fraction of the population infected with vCJD," CEO Dr George Adams said in a release. "This information is vital for determining the need for routine testing of blood donations."[Amorfix Life Sciences news release]

In the United States, the Bush administration pushed through a new "conscience rule" to protect health workers from being forced to perform procedures that violate their religious or ethical beliefs, such as abortions. [New York Times] [Los Angeles Times] The rule is opposed by the American Medical Association and pro-choice groups, who argue that the rule will limit women's access to abortion services. President-elect Barack Obama has hinted, however, that he doesn't approve of the rule and may overturn it when he takes office next month. [Wall Street Journal] Conscience protection rules exist across Canada, and are reinforced by the Canadian Medical Association's conscientious objection policy, which earlier this year came under fire from both pro-choice and anti-choice activists. [National Review of Medicine]

A new book, When Baby Brings the Blues: Solutions for Postpartum Depression, by Toronto psychiatrist Ariel Dalfen, aims to teach people that postpartum depression can be treated successfully. [When Baby Brings the Blues: Solutions for Postpartum Depression] "The major thing I want to impart to people is how treatable it is and how it's not something to keep to yourself and suffer in silence for months on end, which is what a lot of people unfortunately do," Dr Dalfen told CTV.ca News. [CTV.ca News]

Doctors, nurses and health professionals are the most desirable people to marry, although they're not perceived as being as smart as people who work in science and technology, according to a new survey conducted in Canada, the US, and five other countries. [MSNBC] [Synovate professions survey]

Anne Lawrence, of the University of Lethbridge's psychology department described a case of "anatomic autoandrophilia," a type of "erotic target identity inversion" in which someone is sexually aroused by the idea of changing one's body to become more like the people one is attracted to. [Archives of Sexual Behavior abstract]

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

What's in the news: Dec. 18 -- Dr Keith Martin's Zimbabwe crusade

A round-up of Canadian health news, from coast to coast to coast and beyond, for Thursday, December 18.

In the absence of significant international and Canadian aid to Zimbabwe, Liberal MP and former physician Keith Martin has arranged, in collaboration with nonprofit charities and independent of the government, to send a large shipment of medical supplies to rural Howard Hospital, run by Canadian expatriate Dr Paul Thistle. "I went to the most senior people in the organization [the Canadian International Development Agency]. I was told `it's the end of the year, we can't do it,'" he told the Toronto Star's Carol Goar. "I pressed and the only answer I got was `sorry, we can't help right now.'" [Toronto Star] New figures revealed that Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic has killed 1,111 people and infected over 20,000 since August, amidst a crumbling healthcare system, starvation and shortages of medicine. [Reuters]

Health Canada's earlier warning not to give over-the-counter cough medicines to children under two has been expanded to children under six. [Health Canada news release] The Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association of Canada tried to put as positive a spin on the story as they could in their somewhat chagrined-sounding response: "While the safety of these products has been directly evaluated in children for decades, their effectiveness has historically been established through studies conducted in adults. Health Canada has determined that there is a need for new clinical trial data to directly establish the effectiveness of cough and cold medicines in children." [NDMAC news release]

Dr Yves Bolduc was reappointed Quebec's minister of health today as Premier Jean Charest presented a stable, mostly unsurprising cabinet. [Montreal Gazette] The union coalition Centrale des syndicats du Québec said Dr Bolduc is "under surveillance" and must do more to convince Quebeckers that the government will protect the public healthcare system from privatization. [CSQ news release]

Nova Scotia is researching whether it can pay for Toronto rent for 10 patients who needed to be sent to the city for lung transplants. [CBC News]

The Nobel Prize committee is under criminal investigation by a Swedish anti-corruption prosecutor over allegations that AstraZeneca could have influenced the decision to award a share of this year's Nobel Prize in medicine to Dr Harald zur Hausen, in recognition of his work on vaccination for the human papillomavirus (HPV). AstraZeneca, which holds the patents for ingredients used in the two HPV vaccines in production, Gardasil and Cervarix, funds two Nobel subsidiaries, called Nobel Media and Nobel Web. In addition, Bo Angelin, who is on the Nobel committee, also sits on AstraZeneca's board of directors, and another committee member worked as a consultant for the company as recently as 2006. AstraZeneca told the Toronto Star there had been no corruption. [Toronto Star] [Newsmax]

University of Western Ontario researchers announced the development, and licensing, of a new high-tech screening tool to identify pregnant women at risk of preeclampsia. [Western News]

Researchers were surprised to find methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (MRSA) in 3.2% of Ontario schoolteachers, a new study reported. [Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases & Medical Microbiology]

A tobacco ad placed next to the comics in last Friday's Ottawa Citizen prompted Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, and five other groups to call for a complete ban on tobacco advertising. [news release]

Health policy analyst Steven Lewis published an essay on Longwoods's website that is sure to provoke controversy, in which he blames the way doctors' interests have been allowed to supersede the interests of the healthcare system as a whole. "We owe the doctors of Canada a serious apology for spoiling a noble profession. By kowtowing to organized medicine, we end up with collective agreements and policies that entrench the status quo and keep Canadian healthcare in the dark ages," he wrote. "[P]ower corrupts, and we have given organized medicine too much power... Collectively, physicians are worse than the sum of their parts, and that harms all of them, and us. Our mistake has been to give organized medicine what it wants. It is time to give it what it needs, and to help it understand the difference." [Longwoods]

Don't miss the British Medical Journal's clever and funny holiday content. [BMJ]

Weighty Matters, written by Ottawa physician Yoni Freedhoff, was voted Canada's best health blog of 2008. [Canadian Blog Awards]

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$400k spent on hip-hop for Nunavut children's health

The federal government and the territorial government of Nunavut are splitting the $400,000 cost of setting up hip-hop workshops to promote healthy lifestyles to Nunavut youth and fight suicide and crime, the Nunatsiaq News reports.

The spending was announced last week by federal Health Minister and Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq and Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak. The program will produce healthy eating and exercise kits to be distributed to Nunavut schools, said Ms Aglukkaq. "Hip hop reaches out to youth, including youth at risk, and teaches them to respect themselves, their peers and their communities," Ms Aariak told the News.

The workshops are to be run by a Ottawa-based consulting firm called Blueprint for Life, which was founded by social worker Stephen Leafloor, also known as Buddha (pictured above, right, striking an incongruous pose next to an inukshuk), to provide "social work through hip hop."

The Nunatsiaq News article called the $400,000 spending a "splurge" on "high-priced hip hop." Given the drug violence and crime that corrupted much of American hip-hop culture when artists began pulling in large sums of money, resulting in a string of high-profile murders in the 90s, it's uncomfortably ironic to find this among the featured photos on Blueprint for Life's website:


Photos: Blueprint for Life

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What's in the news: Dec. 17 -- Doctor becomes new AB opposition leader

A round-up of Canadian health news, from coast to coast to coast and beyond, for Wednesday, December 17.

Dr David Swann has been elected leader of the Alberta Liberals by a wide margin. Dr Swann is best known for being fired from his pre-politics job as a public health official by the Progressive Conservative government for his vocal support of the Kyoto Protocol, and for staging a hunger strike in Ottawa last year to protest the Canadian government's failure to act to protect the people of Darfur. Of particular importance to note is Dr Swann's flirtation with the idea of abandoning the party's name, presumably to jettison any association with the unpopular-in-Alberta federal Liberals. Before announcing his candidacy for the party leadership, he appeared to toy with the idea of creating an opposition coalition party before giving up on the idea. But Edmonton Sun columnist Neil Waugh said yesterday that Dr Swann's "odd coalition" has nevertheless come to pass. "[W]hat the Liberals got, after their party apparently got hijacked by a dodgy coalition of non-governmental organizations and radical environmentalists who backed Swann, may bear little resemblance to what they once had," wrote a very cynical Mr Waugh, who also advanced the theory that a party name change could still be in the offing. [Edmonton Sun] In today's Calgary Herald, Naomi Lakritz offered a rather odd endorsement of Dr Swann and the Liberals and wondered why he is so often referred to as "eccentric." [Calgary Herald] The Herald's Jason Fekete gave Dr Swann a rather rough welcome to the leader's seat, citing his "steep learning curve" after witnessing an awkward series of PR goofs. [Calgary Herald]

Newfoundland and Labrador's sole HIV/AIDS clinic is in danger of being shut down in a matter of months after the province's only infectious-disease specialist, Dr Mazen Bader, who runs the clinic, announced he is leaving in March. His departure follows that of the province's other ID physician, whose position, vacated last year, still hasn't been filled. "The earlier resignation of the other specialist likely played a role in Bader's decision to quit because his workload had doubled," guessed The Telegram. If a replacement can't be found before Dr Bader leaves, HIV/AIDS patients may be seen by internists and family physicians, a local health official said. "They will not be thrown to the wind." [The Telegram]

Canadian police are beginning to put away their Tasers as safety concerns -- and accidental deaths -- mount. "There have been officers who don't want to carry a Taser because they don't want to be placed in a controversial situation," one Edmonton detective testified at a recent disciplinary hearing about misuse of the weapons. [Edmonton Journal] In Ottawa, the Liberals and the NDP called for a temporary suspension of the use of Tasers by police officers across the country until the government acts on recommendations made in a review by the House of Commons Committee on Public Safety. [Liberal Party news release] "Unfortunately now, with over 20 deaths, it's incredibly obvious to anyone who looks at the situation, that we've got to mark a pause for the use of the taser right now, simply because it's been proven abundantly clear that they're too dangerous to be used without proper rules. And we don't have proper rules," NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair told the Times & Transcript. [Moncton Times & Transcript]

A huge international study investigating the potential connection between cell phone use and cancer is now two years late, and the Canadian contingent has declined to release its results as eight of the twelve other countries have already done. "There is a lot of data that's been obtained, but not all of it, and the people sitting on it are being obstructionists for a particular reason," said Columbia University professor Martin Blank, whose request that all the results to be released as soon as possible has been met with silence. "They don't want the results to come out. It's as simple as that." [Toronto Star]

New Brunswick Health Minister Mike Murphy is endangering patients by continuing to delay a decision on filling the director's position of the provincial trauma program. Only one application has been received in 10 months -- that of Dr Andrew Trenholm -- yet the deadline has been extended another year. "To me, he is the obvious choice and also the most qualified," said Conservative health critic Margaret-Ann Blaney. "I'm amazed he's even still here." [Saint John Telegraph-Journal] An open letter to the minister, by Dr Donald E Craig, the president of one of New Brunswick's medical staff organizations, yesterday asked for the government to take action soon. [Saint John Telegraph-Journal] And one of Dr Trenholm's former patients, Donald Thomas, the mismanagement of whose case inspired the creation of a centralized provincial trauma unit, asked in an opinion article, "Mr. Murphy, do you realize that your silence vis a vis his application as chair of the trauma system is a slap across the face of a man of the highest calibre in health care?" [Saint John Telegraph-Journal]

After yet another temporary shutdown of Ontario's Chalk River nuclear plant last week forced doctors to move up tests last weekend to ensure radioactive contrast materials were available, the facility has reopened and resumed producing the necessary radioisotopes used in medical diagnostic imaging. The doctors' concerns were prompted by the extension of a planned five-day shutdown by just a day and a half. [Canadian Press] [Toronto Star] The shutdown and subsequent panic have restarted debate about the absence of contingency planning for the Chalk River plant, which is crucial to the entire world's supply of medical radioisotopes. [Globe and Mail]

A report released today by the Canadian Forces ombudsman's office finds fault with the military's handling of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers and veterans. The report, entitled A Long Road to Recovery: Battling Operational Stress Injuries, found that only 13 of the 31 recommendations made in a 2002 report on improving the Canadian Forces' treatment of PTSD have been implemented, including the very first one, which recommends "The Canadian Forces develop a database that accurately reflects the number of Canadian Forces personnel, including members of both the Regular and Reserve Forces, who are affected by stress-related injuries." [A Long Road to Recovery report] [Canadian Press] At the Canadian Medical Association's annual meeting, in August, there was a somewhat divisive resolution passed about the effectiveness of the military's PTSD screening program. As I reported then, "There was a fair amount of debate on this motion at the meeting. A physician with the Canadian Forces stood up to defend the military’s PTSD screening and treatment program, and there was some disagreement back and forth about how the screening program worked and whether it conformed to evidence-based research." [Canadian Medicine]

Lesbian teenagers are more likely to become pregnant than heterosexual teenagers, found a University of British Columbia study published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. "These results are linked to higher rates of discrimination and harassment among LGB teens at school," said lead author Elizabeth Saewyc, a UBC nursing professor, in a release. [UBC news release] [Vancouver Sun]

After a consulting firm's review of Alberta's healthcare system recommended consolidating hospital services and converting some rural hospitals into clinics, many Albertans are worried the availability of services may become more limited. "We make no apologies that we have to look at the delivery of health care across the province and do what makes sense for the patient," Health Minister Ron Liepert told the Calgary Herald. "The media is totally focused on how much money will this save. We are doing this for the right reasons, not necessarily to save money." [Calgary Herald] Though small towns are "worried sick" about the potential scope of the closures, which reportedly threaten to start an intra-party battle between urban and rural Tory legislators [Calgary Herald], the Herald's editorial board endorsed the idea. "Albertans will hate it, and it will be a tough sell for Premier Ed Stelmach and his rural caucus," said the editorial. "But the fact remains, many medical experts, including the new Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann, believe there are too many rural hospitals... After all, how many half-empty hospitals does one province need?" [Calgary Herald]

Montreal's teaching hospitals purchased specialized software to help reduce prescription drug interactions and keep track of contraindications. [Montreal Gazette]

Digitizing radiological images could save the country's healthcare system up to $1.5 billion per year, a new report from Canada Health Infoway said. [Diagnostic Imaging Benefits Evaluation Report (PDF)] [Canada Health Infoway news release] [Sun Media]

Now we know the cause of the 2004-2006 Toronto General Hospital outbreak of multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa that killed 12 patients: the design of the hospital's sinks. [Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology abstract] "The big design flaw with the sink was that the gooseneck where the water is coming out was positioned directly over the drain itself," said lead author Dr Michael Gardam, the University Health Network's director of infection prevention, told CBC News. "So when you washed your hands, that water wasn't hitting the side of the bowl first, it was hitting the drain directly, splashing inside the drain, and then causing those drain contents to splash out."[CBC News] "It's a cruel irony that in a setting where clean hands are critical, the sinks turned out to be the problem," commented the Canadian Press. [Canadian Press]

New Brunswick nurses will not go on strike over the holidays, after all. A mediator will now attempt to help the nurses' union and the government come to an agreement. [CBC News]

Prince Edward Island is well on its way to its own family medicine residency program, starting next year. [The Guardian (PEI)]

An Iraqi-born British doctor was sentenced to a minimum of 32 years in prison for his role in a car-bombing at the Glasgow airport and two attempted car-bombings in London last year. One accomplice, an engineering student, died of injuries he sustained in Glasgow. A Jordanian-born neurologist was acquitted of any crimes and is now fighting a deportation order, and another doctor was deported to India after refusing to cooperate with police. [Associated Press] After the Glasgow attack last year, we wrote about some people who insisted it should come as no surprise that doctors could be terrorists. [Canadian Medicine]

McGill psychology professor Daniel Levitin on why Christmas carols are so catchy... and why they're so damn annoying. [Wall Street Journal]

Dr Anne Berndl, an ob/gyn resident at Dalhousie and creator of the web resource www.doctorstarter.ca, has published a book on Canadian med school, So, You Want to be a Doctor, Eh? [So, You Want to be a Doctor, Eh?] [McMaster news release]

A special edition of Grand Rounds -- the best medical blog posts of 2008 -- is online. [A Chronic Dose]

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A carol for Alberta's health minister

Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason (right) recently adapted a popular Christmas carol just for his counterpart, provincial Health Minister Ron Liepert.

The Calgary Herald reported, "Alberta MLAs got an early serving of Christmas music Thursday in the legislature, when NDP Leader Brian Mason -- upset with the Conservative government's health-care moves in recent years -- vented his frustration in a Christmas jingle that had politicians from all parties chuckling."

After Mr Mason read out a brief version of his version of "Twelve Days of Christmas" in the legislature, Speaker Ken Kowalski said, "The honourable member might consider sticking with his day job."

Here is the full text of Mr Mason's Alberta-healthcare adaptation:

Twelve Days of Christmas Redux

On the first day of Christmas,

the health minister gave to me

A (health services board) consultant from New Jersey.



On the second day of Christmas,

the health minister gave to me

Two Tory bagmen,

And a consultant from New Jersey.



On the third day of Christmas,

the health minister gave to me

Three hospitals closing,

Two Tory bagmen,

And a consultant from New Jersey.



On the fifth day of Christmas,

the health minister gave to me

Five golden handshakes,

Four doctors fired,

Three hospitals closing,

Two Tory bagmen,

And a consultant from New Jersey.



On the seventh day of Christmas,

the health minister gave to me

Seven (David) Swanns a-walking

Six empty wards,

Five golden handshakes,

Four doctors fired,

Three hospitals closing,

Two Tory bagmen,

And a consultant from New Jersey.



On the ninth day of Christmas,

the health minister gave to me

Nine (regional) health boards fired,

Eight used syringes,

Seven Swanns a-walking,

Six empty wards,

Five golden handshakes,

Four doctors fired,

Three hospitals closing,

Two Tory bagmen,

And a consultant from New Jersey.



On the twelfth day of Christmas,

the health minister gave to me

Twelve lists a-waiting,

Eleven memos censored,

Ten private clinics,

Nine health boards fired,

Eight used syringes,

Seven Swanns a-walking,

Six empty wards,

Five golden handshakes,

Four doctors fired,

Three hospitals closing,

Two Tory bagmen,

And a consultant from New Jersey!

Photo: Brian Mason

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