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Latest News: Asia's rising tobacco epidemic

Smoke-filled bars and packed cancer wards reflect decades of neglect of no-smoking policies in Asia, where both high- and low-income countries are belatedly waking up to a growing tobacco-related health epidemic.

Researchers say inadequate public awareness of smoking risks, coupled with aggressive tobacco marketing, has left Asian nations with some of the highest smoking rates in the world at a time when sustained anti-smoking campaigns have lowered rates in the US and parts of Europe.

Roughly 60 percent of the world's population lives in Asia, where "tobacco control programmes are less well-developed, particularly in low- and middle-income countries like China and India", said a major regional study published April in PLOS Medicine.

In developed countries like Japan and South Korea, it is only recently that the authorities have made genuine moves to cut smoking rates that were once as high as 85 percent among adult males.

European countries have spearheaded raising taxes on tobacco -- backed by the World Health Organisation as the most cost-effective way to curb smoking. But Asian countries have been slow to follow suit.

- 'Biggest threat' -

Last week, however, the South Korean government proposed a massive 80 percent increase in cigarette prices.

In a country where 44 percent of the male population smokes, Health Minister Moon Hyung-Pyo said the time had come to grapple seriously with the "biggest threat to national health".

Opposition critics criticised what they saw as a desperate bid to raise tax revenues to fund a growing welfare bill and said the move would hit low-income earners the hardest.

"Smoking was long regarded as a way for hard-working Korean men to counter the stress of the country's rapid industrialisation," said Kim Jin-Young, a sociology professor at Korea University.

"Governments were very wary of raising taxes on cigarettes and alcohol for fear of an electoral backlash," Kim told AFP.

"But the public perception is changing now, with people putting more of an emphasis on public health than before," he added.

The South Korean tobacco market is estimated to be worth around $9.0 billion a year.

In April, state health insurers filed a lawsuit against three domestic and foreign tobacco makers, seeking damages of 53.7 billion won for payouts over tobacco-related illnesses.

They claimed to have spent about 1.7 trillion won each year to help treat diseases caused by smoking.

In Japan, where more than 30 percent of men smoke, the government raised taxes on cigarettes in June -- the first increase for 17 years.

"Japan's smoking rate is really a legacy of the wartime national policy of promoting smoking as a source of national budget," said Hiroshi Yamato, a doctor and smoking expert at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health in Kitakyushu, western Japan.

The tobacco industry was a state monopoly until 1985 when it was privatised as Japan Tobacco, which still controls more than 60 percent of the market and wields substantial political influence.

"Japan is still way behind in terms of anti-smoking policies especially measures against secondhand smoke," said Yamato.

"You can still smoke in a lot of public places in Japan such as office buildings, coffee shops, restaurants and bars," he added.

South Korea only banned smoking in public places in July 2013, with small restaurants and bars exempted until 2015.

- Too little, too late? -

Although global smoking rates have fallen, more people smoke worldwide today than in 1980, mainly due to population surges in countries like China and India.

China had nearly 100 million more smokers in 2012 than it had three decades ago, even though its smoking rate fell from 30 to 24 percent in that time, according to data published in January in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

China has close to 300 million smokers, and efforts to ban smoking in public areas have suffered from lax enforcement.

Tobacco use is linked to 1.2 million deaths a year in China and around one million in India, and studies suggest the toll is going to increase exponentially.

A paper published in the British Medical Journal this year said China risked accumulating 50 million tobacco deaths between 2012 and 2050.

And because of the long latency of diseases associated with smoking, the full impact of decades of laissez-faire policies has yet to be felt.

"Many Asian countries are in the early stages of the tobacco epidemic," said the PLOS Medicine study.

"So it is likely that the burden of diseases caused by tobacco smoking will continue to rise over the next few decades, and much longer if the tobacco epidemic remains unchecked," it said.

Latest News: Mystery illness plagues girls in Colombia

A mystery illness is plaguing girls in this town in northern Colombia, and locals say a vaccine against the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV, is to blame.

First their hands and feet feel cold. Then they go pale and cannot move. Some convulse and fall to the floor.

In El Carmen de Bolivar, near the port of Cartagena, dozens of teenagers have experienced similar symptoms. Some have even lost consciousness.

"They vaccinated me in May and I started fainting in August. My legs became heavy and I couldn't feel my hands anymore. When I woke up, I was in the hospital," recalled 15-year-old Eva Mercado.

She passed out seven times in a month.

For most of the families affected in this town of 67,000, there is no doubt about what is causing the problem.

They place the blame squarely on a vaccination campaign against HPV, one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, which can trigger cervical cancer.

The city's modest Nuestra Senora del Carmen hospital has been overwhelmed by a surge of unconscious teenage girls being wheeled through its doors.

Panicked fathers bring their daughters to the facility aboard their motorcycles, using the town's dirt roads.

Doctors search, in vain, for possible cases of hypoglycemia or drug abuse.

According to hospital official Augusto Agamez, about 370 minors have checked into the facility. There was also one boy among them.

"There is no diagnosis or specific treatment," Agamez told AFP, stressing that the hospital was also helping families cope with the unknown illness.

When they come to, the young patients learn breathing techniques from nurses.

They also receive saline solution and oxygen. Once back on their feet, the girls go home -- until the next spell.

- 'Not collective hysteria' -

"They brought me to the hospital 16 times last month," said Beatriz Martinez.

For the 15-year-old, it all started with headaches and backaches. Then her legs and hands gave in as well, forcing her mother to help her take baths.

The teenage girls affected by the mysterious malaise no longer go outside. Some don't even leave their homes.

"My daughter is not the same," said street vendor Jhon Jairo Mercaco, adding that, until now, his daughter had not been hospitalized since birth.

"I am desperate," said William Montes, a farmer who traveled down a mountain with his two daughters in a hammock to get them treated in town.

The epidemic has grabbed national headlines, and President Juan Manuel Santos has been forced to weigh in.

Insisting the HPV vaccination campaign was safe, Santos suggested the epidemic was no more than a "phenomenon of collective suggestion."

Those comments were met with tremendous anger in El Carmen de Bolivar, already shaken by Bogota's decades-long battle against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

In the 1980s, clashes pitting government forces against the leftist rebels killed about 100 people here.

US drug giant Merck, which makes the Gardasil vaccine, said it was "confident in the safety profile" of its product.

"We continue to monitor adverse events reporting and are following this situation closely," it said in a statement to AFP.

"Merck/MSD will continue to support the ministry's immunization and monitoring efforts in Colombia."

Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria was met with boos and burned tires during a recent visit.

While promising a series of measures -- gathering data on patients, setting up new tests, providing psychological counseling -- the minister stopped short of suspending the vaccinations.

"We have no reason to stop at this time," Gaviria said.

Those words failed to reassure parents whose family and professional life have been upended by an illness whose origins are still unknown.

"This is not collective hysteria or manipulation. If you see your daughter have these symptoms after a vaccination, what else would you blame?" asked Maria Veronica Romera, the mother of a weakened 13-year-old.

Latest News: 'Lather Against Ebola': 'Ice Bucket' challenge against the virus

Bringing a soapy twist to the "Ice Bucket Challenge" that has swept the world in recent weeks, Ivorians are raising awareness about the deadly disease outbreak in west Africa with a new "Lather Against Ebola" campaign.

People in Ivory Coast do use ice in their variation, but have added a good head of lather to alert others to the need for hygiene to ward off the Ebola epidemic raging in neighbouring countries.

The campaign has already flooded Twitter and Facebook feeds in the region with the French hashtag "#MousserContreEbola" -- helping raise awareness about a virus that has claimed more than 2,400 lives in neighbouring Guinea and Liberia, as well as Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Instead of cash donations, participants are encouraged to donate bars of soap and bottles of antiseptic.

The original Ice Bucket Challenge is a hugely successful viral campaign in which people challenged their friends to film themselves pouring ice water over their heads. It has raised millions of dollars worldwide to fund research into a fatal degenerative nervous disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease after a renowned US baseball player.

Ivory Coast, which has shut its long, porous borders with Liberia and Guinea and banned flights from the affected nations, has yet to report any cases of Ebola, but panicking locals are resorting to measures like drinking salted water or eating onions in the mistaken belief they prevent infection.

The Soap Bucket Challenge is the brainchild of Edith Brou, one of the country's most prominent Twitter users, who decided it would be a good idea to "tropicalise" the ice bucket trend.

She got the ball rolling last month with a video of herself being drenched on the balcony of the small online marketing firm where she works in the commercial capital Abidjan.

"Against Ebola, you need good hygiene," she says in the video before a bucket of ice-cold soapy water is dunked on her head. It gave her a tenacious cold, she said, but was rewarded with almost 4,000 hits on the video.

Brou challenged three famous bloggers, including La Rigueur Bino -- real name Nouho Bamba -- who claims to have 150,000 followers.

His contribution -- in which he wore a smart suit and ended up throwing himself in a swimming pool with a suitcase in his hand -- garnered more than 52,000 viewers.

"I knew that jumping into a pool would create a buzz," said Bamba, who works for a phone company. "Today, even children need to understand what Ebola is."

- The vital web -

With 1.4 million Facebook accounts in the country and hundreds of thousands of mobile phones, the Internet has played an increasingly important role in politics and society in Ivory Coast.

With Ebola, bloggers have a new opportunity to show their influence. One of them, Israel Yoroba Guebo, has even come up with a song, "Stop Ebola", that is being used as the waiting tone by one phone operator.

They have made their presence felt over numerous issues in recent years, including the negligent death in April of a young model left untreated at Abidjan's Central University Hospital after an assault, and the New Year's stampede outside Abidjan stadium in 2013 in which 61 people died.

Social networks also proved a powerful resource during the violence that followed the disputed election in 2010, when more than 3,000 people were killed in five months.

A hashtag #CIVsocial was used on Twitter to help coordinate relief efforts and share information.

"We even had a doctor help women give birth over the phone," said Brou.

"It is only thanks to the social networks that we were able to save lives."

Latest News: Online volunteers map uncharted Ebola zones to help save lives

By Stella Dawson

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Donating to disasters used to mean writing a check to Oxfam or the Red Cross.

These days in the Internet age, for the Ebola crisis, citizens from all over the world are donating their time by going online to build maps for relief workers.

Call it crowd-sourced cartography that can save lives.

Roads or paths to remote villages through deep forest in West Africa, bridges and river crossings, school buildings that can be used as temporary clinics, an open field for a helicopter landing - all these are visible from satellite imagery and provide critical information for delivering aid.

However, these details never made it onto official maps in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone - countries too poor to worry about whether there are accurate Google Maps loaded onto smartphones.

So when the Ebola epidemic erupted earlier this year, Doctors without Borders, the American Red Cross and other groups on the ground found that unreliable maps made fighting the spread of the deadly virus much more difficult.

They could not trace the likely vectors of transmission because they did not know the patterns of peoples’ daily lives, and they could not plan effective aid delivery.

Enter the collaborative Ebola project by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT).

OpenStreetMap is a project to create a free, open map of the world, built by volunteers through GPS surveying, aerial imagery, and public sources of geographic data.

Taking that concept a step further, HOT connects the OpenStreetMap community with humanitarian players on the ground to fill in the gaps on maps for disaster and crisis zones.

Around 1,200 volunteers so far have logged onto HOT's website, clicked on a map quadrant and traced in the rich geographic details visible from satellites.

A quick tutorial guides volunteers through the work, which is similar to using a software programme like Adobe Photoshop.

By using the satellite imagery to add details like population density and connecting paths between communities, remote map makers give humanitarian groups vital tools for planning their ground campaign in combating a disease that has claimed more than 2,400 lives.

“They will print out the maps poster sized and pin them on the wall to plan their work, how to distribute supplies,” said Pierre Beland, a 67-year-old retired economist living near Montreal who has turned his computer knowledge to map making.

For Andrew Buck, an unemployed 29-year-old computer scientist who logs on daily from his home in Fargo, North Dakota, the map work transports him a continent away.

“You are acutely aware and start to get a sense of being in that place and learn about how people live, their farms, the fields, where the kids play soccer, the schools, and connections to the next village,” Buck said in a telephone interview.

VOLUNTEERS MAP DISASTER ZONES

Their work began in March after Doctors without Borders, the non-profit medical corps based in Switzerland, sent a geographer to Guinea to work alongside epidemiologists, who needed accurate maps of buildings that could serve as clinics and specialised maps showing pathways along which the virus could spread.

Audrey Lessard-Fontaine, the group's cartographic liaison, asked OpenStreetMap to enlist volunteers.

Its worldwide Internet community had experience mapping disasters. Their first assignment was in January 2010 mapping Port-au-Prince after the Haiti earthquake destroyed the government offices that housed its maps.

Nearly four years later, 1,500 OpenStreetMap volunteers from 82 countries mapped flooded homes and what was left standing after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines.

The Ebola crisis is by far its largest project to date.

"The great thing about it is the speed at which areas can be mapped. Even if we had five staff full-time working on it, we would hardly be able to reach the speed at which dozens, hundreds of volunteers manage to map out a zone," said Lessard-Fontaine.

The volunteer cartographers have recorded 7 million data points so far and still have large swathes undone. By comparison, Typhoon Haiyan was 4.5 million data entries, and Haiti only 1.3 million, Buck and Beland said.

Their latest assignment came this week. Doctors Without Borders needs a detailed street map of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, where the outbreak is raging out of control and U.S. President Barack Obama is sending 3,000 soldiers.

For the cartographers, it’s a way to fight Ebola from their desktops for which anyone can sign up.

“We’re just a bunch of computer guys on the Internet,” said Buck.

(Reporting by Stella Dawson.; Editing by Alisa Tang)

Latest News: Is it time for a mental health waiting target?
A young boy with his hands on his head (his face cannot be seen)

Waiting time targets have become synonymous with the NHS in England. They apply to everything from A&E units and ambulance calls outs to routine surgery and cancer treatment.

But it's not just an English phenomenon. Other countries in the UK have introduced their own.

The exception is mental health. It should come as no surprise - mental health care is often said to be the poor cousin of the NHS family. Figures show that the condition gets 11% of the budget, but accounts for 28% of the disease burden.

The result is that many people go without help. An estimated three quarters of people with a mental illness receive no treatment. For physical disorders, the rate is nearer a quarter.

Research released this week by We Need to Talk, a coalition of mental health charities and royal colleges, shows this can have devastating consequences.

The group carried out a survey of 2,000 patients who had spent time waiting for psychological therapies. It found of those that faced long waits or went without care, four in 10 had harmed themselves and one in six attempted suicide.

Targets in the NHS in England

Service Target

Routine surgery

18 weeks from GP referral to treatment starting

A&E

Four hours to be admitted, transferred or discharged

Ambulances

Eight minutes for most serious life threatening cases

Cancer

Host of targets, including two-week wait to be seen after urgent referral

The coalition has called for waiting time targets to be introduced for psychological therapies, suggesting 28 days from referral to treatment. Currently one in three patients wait longer than this - despite evidence showing symptoms get worse after this point.

The call has received some support in the corridors of power. England's chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies has suggested targets may help address some of the disparity she believes exists between physical and mental health conditions, while Care Services Minister Norman Lamb has championed the issue.

NHS England is now looking at how "access standards" could be introduced from 2015. It's not yet clear how far these would go. But if a mandatory target was to be introduced, would it make a difference?

Andy Bell, deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, thinks so, saying it could "correct the balance".

"It would send a clear message about what is expected and in turn that would force issues of investment and resources to be addressed. But there would need to be clear entitlements to treatment too. It's no good setting waiting times if people can't then get referred."

It is easy to understand why there is such a desire. While at times maligned, targets have made a huge difference to the patient experience. Before waiting time targets were introduced for routine surgery waits of two years were seen, while delays of 12 hours in A&E units were not unheard of before the four-hour target was installed a decade ago.

But it also needs carefully considering. Mental health services cover a wide range of treatments. While there is evidence that those waiting for psychological therapies should wait no more than 28 days, those needing help from crisis teams or young people experiencing psychosis need immediate attention. It may not be just one target mental health services need, it could be several.

Latest News: Family criticise trust over death

Peter McAneney, from County Armagh, was admitted for a routine ear operation at Craigavon Area Hospital in 2012

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The mother of a 21-year-old man has severely criticised the Southern Health trust for "failing her son" after he died weeks after an operation.

Peter McAneney, from County Armagh, was admitted for a routine ear operation at Craigavon Area Hospital in 2012.

Jennifer McAneney described the care her son received as "sub-standard".

A spokesperson for the trust said it recognised the "devastating impact" Peter's death had had on the McAneney family.

Mrs McAneney is also critical of why it took seven months before the trust launched a serious adverse incident investigation into her son's death.

Start Quote

Peter was our youngest and our only son and it's just been so long since I have heard him call my name and I just long to see him come down that path with his football bag”

End Quote Jennifer McAneney

"As a mother I have lost one of my greatest gifts," she said.

"Peter was our youngest and our only son and it's just been so long since I have heard him call my name and I just long to see him come down that path with his football bag.

"I have to keep searching for the answers why he died."

Catalogue of failings

Northern Ireland's coroner's office has begun its own investigation and has recruited the expertise of three health professionals.

The McAneney family has accused the health trust of a catalogue of failings, both during Peter's care, and after his death.

These include:

  • mismanagement of fluid
  • failure to carry out a chest X-ray
  • failure to record an adverse reaction during the CT scan process
  • document and record conversations
  • update clinical notes
  • detect and record signs of clinical deterioration
  • comply with clinical governance policies and procedures

Jennifer McAneney told the BBC the family has been hampered by the lack of response from health trust officials.

"I suppose over the last couple of years, the silence of the trust has been really deafening," she said.

"And that's one of the things that we'd noticed from the outset.

"It wasn't until we started to write to the agencies, the chief medical officer, the NI coroner's office, the RQIA (Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority), the chairman of the hyponatraemia inquiry and the health and social care board that our voice was finally heard."

The BBC has learned that seven months after Peter's death the Northern Ireland coroner's office wrote to the Southern Trust asking for a copy of the report into his death.

A report did not exist.

It was only at this stage that the health trust then reported Peter's death as a serious adverse incident (SAI).

It took a further three months for the investigation to be initiated.

'Review'

In December 2012, following discussions with the pathologist and at the family's request, the coroner's office agreed to conduct its own investigation.

Jennifer McAneney described the care her son received as "sub-standard"Jennifer McAneney described the care her son received as "sub-standard"

In a statement to the BBC, the Southern Health and Social care trust said: "The circumstances surrounding Peter's death are now the subject of a review by the Northern Ireland coroner's office and therefore we are unable to make any comment on the questions raised by the BBC.

"However, the trust has been co-operating fully with the coroner's office and we will continue to provide whatever assistance is requested while the review is ongoing."

In April 2012, Peter McAneney was admitted to hospital for an inner ear operation to his right ear.

He had undergone the procedure on two previous occasions to enhance his hearing and reduce infection.

Start Quote

I still wake up around 4am every morning, the hour the hospital rang for us to come straight to the hospital. His death was so unexpected”

End Quote Tommy McAneney

However, without him having giving his consent, he also received a titanium implant to improve his hearing.

But within three weeks Peter was readmitted as many times with ear infections and chest pains.

During an outpatients visit, he was diagnosed with an allergy to iodine.

Despite telling staff that he was allergic to iodine, Peter suffered an adverse reaction when given iodine in preparation for an X-ray.

Peter McAneneyThe family said they were adamant they will continue to search for the truth about the circumstances surrounding their son's "untimely" death

Mrs McAneney has challenged the trust about why the incident was not recorded by staff, despite Peter collapsing and requiring oxygen.

He died within three weeks from his initial admission following two heart attacks.

His father Tommy described the past two years as a "living nightmare".

'Wall of silence'

"I still wake up around 4am every morning, the hour the hospital rang for us to come straight to the hospital. His death was so unexpected," he said.

"We have progressed this as far as we can. We need help to bring Peter's case to the forefront because we have been met by a wall of silence. They think they are untouchable."

Mr and Mrs McAneney said they are adamant they will continue to search for the truth about the circumstances surrounding their son's "untimely" death.

"It would have to be said, there would be no investigation by the health trust, they were more than happy to close Peter's case and that's what we find really shocking," Mrs McAneney said.

"There's only been an investigation because we pushed and pushed for it. It's very difficult for lay people to tackle the trust. It's more concerned about protecting their corporate identity than working with the likes of us."

The family wrote to the chairman of the inquiry into hyponatraemia-related deaths in hospitals in Northern Ireland.

In a letter to the McAneneys, inquiry chair John O'Hara said the fact that even in very recent times there had been failures to follow good procedures after a death is very worrying indeed.

"The fact that even in very recent times there have been failures to follow good procedures after a death is very worrying indeed," Mr O'Hara said.

Latest News: Woman's ambulance queue death review
Ambulances outside Morriston Hospital The woman had been waiting outside Morriston Hospital when she died

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An investigation is being carried out after a woman died in an ambulance while waiting in a queue of around 15 emergency vehicles outside a hospital.

The patient had been outside A&E at Morriston Hospital in Swansea for between 30 and 40 minutes when she died on Wednesday at about 15:40 BST.

The Welsh Ambulance Service and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board have launched a joint review.

They said they wanted to have a "full understanding of what happened".

Latest News: Liberia hopes U.S. Ebola pledge will spur others to act

MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said on Wednesday she hoped U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to send 3,000 troops to West Africa to battle the worst Ebola outbreak on record would spur other countries to help.

"On behalf of the Liberian people and in my own name, I want thank President Obama and the American people for scaling up the American response," Johnson Sirleaf said in an address to Liberians.

"We remain in touch with the leaders of other governments to take similar steps and join us in partnership to end this disease," she said.

Johnson Sirleaf said her government was "fighting back" against the deadly virus, which has claimed the lives of some 1,300 people in Liberia, the country hardest hit by the epidemic.

On Tuesday, Obama called the outbreak a looming threat to international security and said the United States would be increasing its efforts to help stop the spread of the disease.

The U.S. plan includes establishing a regional command and control centre in Liberia's capital; building 17 treatment centres with 100 beds each, and training thousands of health care workers.

A planeload of hospital equipment from the United States is due to arrive in Liberia on Friday, a senior administration official said on Wednesday. This is the first of 13 air shipments headed for Monrovia, carrying equipment for a 25-bed hospital to be built there.

Liberia, which was founded in the 19th century by descendants of freed American slaves, has welcomed assistance from its long-time ally, the United States.

"Ebola will not defeat us; never. We have faced great tragedies before. These have tested us and shown our true character," said Johnson Sirleaf, referring to a 1989-2003 civil war in which up to a quarter of a million people were killed.

"I call on you to stand up again. We are fighting back and we will win."

The worst Ebola outbreak since the disease was identified in 1976 has killed nearly 2,500 people, or about half of those infected. In addition to Liberia, cases have been reported in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal.

An outbreak said to be unrelated to the one in West Africa has been reported in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Some Liberians blame Johnson Sirleaf, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on women's rights, for not doing more to protect them from the illness.

The current Ebola outbreak was first confirmed in March in the remote forests of southeastern Guinea.

In her address, Johnson Sirleaf said her government had acted "swiftly and decisively" with measures such as a curfew and travel restrictions.

"We acted within the scale of our capacity to contain the scale of an outbreak we could not imagine possible," she said.

Also on Wednesday, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said that a French volunteer working for it in Liberia has contracted Ebola, and that seven of its local staff have fallen ill from the virus and three of them have died.

Healthcare workers account for hundreds of those who have been infected with Ebola.

The volunteer is the first French national and MSF's first international staff member to be stricken with the disease in the outbreak, MSF said in a statement. The French government said she would be evacuated to France in a special medical plane.

MSF is the leading organization fighting the outbreak, with more than 2,000 staff members working across West Africa.

(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; Writing by Bate Felix and Emma Farge; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

Latest News: British Ebola nurse travels to US
Will PooleyWill Pooley survived after treatment for Ebola

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A British nurse who recovered from Ebola has travelled to the US to donate blood to try to save the life of another victim of the virus.

Will Pooley, 29, was discharged from the Royal Free Hospital in north-west London two weeks ago where he received treatment in a special isolation unit.

Both Mr Pooley and the new victim, who has not been named, are believed to have worked together in Sierra Leone.

The Foreign Office said it had arranged a replacement passport within 24 hours.

As a survivor of the disease, Mr Pooley could help the victim recover by donating his blood which will now contain natural antibodies that can help protect against Ebola.

Mr Pooley is thought to have flown to Atlanta at the weekend after the Foreign Office issued him with an emergency passport.

His original passport was burned along with other belongings as a precaution to stop the virus from spreading.

All options

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said in a statement: "Following a request from his family, the FCO Consular Team and the UK Passport Office worked together to get a replacement passport to Will Pooley within 24 hours, this enabled him to fly out to the US immediately and potentially assist with the treatment of an Ebola victim."

Infectious diseases specialist Dr Aneesh Mehta, one of five doctors working at a specialist unit in Atlanta, said the team were looking at all treatment options for the latest patient.

He said: "We believe the supportive care - allowing the body to heal itself and supporting it through that process - is the mainstay of therapy, as is true for any infectious disease. If we have therapeutic options, we'll evaluate those."

Ebola is transmitted through sweat, blood and saliva.

The World Health Organisation says that more than 2,500 people have been killed by the latest outbreak in west Africa, where the death rate stands at 90% if it goes untreated.

Latest News: Green light for new skin cancer drug
Skin cancerIn most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and more than one colour

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A new drug to treat skin cancer should be made available on the NHS, a health body has recommended.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has given the green light to a drug that can help some patients with advanced melanoma.

Dabrafenib (Tafinlar) is one of a new generation of cancer drugs that target specific gene mutations.

NICE said the drug should be made available provided that it was sold to the NHS at a discount.

The drug should be used for patients whose cancer had spread or could not be completely removed by surgery and who had tested positive for the mutation, it said in final draft guidance.

Start Quote

Its approval underlines the importance of a new generation of cancer drugs targeted at specific molecular features of tumours - drugs which after years of painstaking development are now making their way to patients”

End Quote Prof Paul Workman Institute of Cancer Research

The drug, which targets cancer cells with the BRAF V600 mutation, can block the growth of the cancer.

NICE has already recommended vemurafenib, which targets the same mutation, and the monoclonal antibody ipilimumab for advanced melanoma.

Prof Carole Longson, director of the Centre for Health Technology Evaluation at NICE, said: "For a long time, the treatments available for skin cancer which has spread have been very limited.

"However, in recent years a number of breakthrough treatments that can potentially significantly improve the prognosis for some people with malignant melanoma have become available.

"NICE has already recommended vemurafenib and ipilimumab and we hope to add dabrafenib to the list of options available."

Prof Paul Workman, interim chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, welcomed the decision.

"Its approval underlines the importance of a new generation of cancer drugs targeted at specific molecular features of tumours - drugs which after years of painstaking development are now making their way to patients."

Prof Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "This decision provides patients with more options to help them survive this aggressive cancer for longer.

"While the drug does not provide a cure, it represents the progress made in our understanding of biology in advanced skin cancer and how this can be used to develop innovative treatments to treat the disease."

Malignant melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 4% of all new cases.

Latest News: Berries in cancer therapy trial
Chokeberry The berries grow in wetlands and swamps

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Wild berries native to North America may have a role in boosting cancer therapy, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Pathology.

Scientists suggest chokeberries could work in combination with conventional drugs to kill more cancer cells.

But the UK research is at an early stage, with experiments carried out only on cancer cells in laboratories.

Cancer Research UK says much more work is needed to test the effectiveness of berries, particularly in human trials.

Start Quote

Innovative approaches are urgently needed to improve treatment for people with pancreatic cancer”

End Quote Henry Scowcroft Cancer Research UK
Hard to treat

Researchers from the University of Southampton and King's College Hospital, London, tested a berry extract on pancreatic cancer samples.

Pancreatic cancer is particularly hard to treat and has an average survival period of just six months after diagnosis.

The study found that when the berry extract was used, together with a conventional chemotherapy drug called gemcitabine, more cancer cells died than when the drug was used alone.

But the scientists say the chokeberry had no effect on normal body cells tested in this way.

They believe compounds known as polyphenols in the berries may reduce the number of harmful cells.

And the team previously carried out similar early work on brain cancer cells.

Henry Scowcroft, at the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "It's far too early to say from this small laboratory study whether chemicals extracted from chokeberries have any effect on pancreatic cancer in patients.

"And the findings certainly don't suggest that the berries themselves should be taken alongside conventional chemotherapy.

"But innovative approaches are urgently needed to improve treatment for people with pancreatic cancer - a disease for which there has been precious little progress over recent decades."

Chokeberries grow on the eastern side of North America in wetlands and swamp areas.

Bashar Al Waleed, a lecturer at Southampton University, who carried out the study, said: "We need to do more research to understand how the chemotherapy and berry work together.

"At the moment we cannot suggest people go out and buy supplements - we are still at the experimental level."

The study was funded by the Malaysian ministry of higher education and health charity Have a Chance Inc in the USA.

Latest News: GSK melanoma pill backed by UK cost watchdog with price cut

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's healthcare cost agency NICE has recommended a third new drug for melanoma, this time from GlaxoSmithKline, after the drugmaker offered to supply it at a discount to the state-run National Health Service.

GSK currently markets Tafinlar but the product will soon transfer to Novartis under a deal between the two companies to trade assets.

Tafinlar is an oral medicine that works in a similar way to Roche's already recommended drug Zelboraf. Both target a specific gene mutation linked to around half of aggressive melanomas.

The drugs have produced remarkable results in shrinking tumours in clinical trials, although cancers typically become resistant to treatment within a year.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said on Thursday it had fast-tracked its recommendation for Tafinlar to the final draft stage in order to speed up access to the treatment.

The recommendation is conditional on GSK supplying the drug to the state health system at an undisclosed discount to the list price, which is 1,400 pounds for a 28-capsule pack of 75 mg pills. The recommended dose is 150 mg taken twice daily.

NICE also recommends the use of Bristol-Myers Squibb's injectable melanoma drug Yervoy.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Jason Neely)

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