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More girls now getting cervical cancer vaccine

NEW YORK (AP) — The government is reporting an increase in teen U.S. girls getting a controversial cervical cancer vaccine — but it's not much of a bump.

Last year's rise follows a couple of years when the HPV vaccination rate was flat.

For girls ages 13 to 17, the rate is now up to about 38 percent from 33 percent.

The CDC on Thursday reported the latest rates for the vaccine that protects against human papillomavirus, or HPV. The sexually transmitted bug can cause cervical cancer, genital warts and other illnesses.

The vaccine has been available since 2006.

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Online:

CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr

U.N. chief condemns attack on U.N. school in Gaza

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday he was appalled by an attack on a United Nations-run school in the Gaza strip that killed civilians, including children, and U.N. staff.

"Circumstances are still unclear. I strongly condemn this act," Ban said in a statement. "Many have been killed – including women and children, as well as U.N. staff."

The Gaza health ministry said at least 15 people had been killed and some 200 wounded. Israel Radio, without citing a source, reported that most of those killed at the United Nations school were children.

"Throughout the day, our staff had been attempting to arrange a humanitarian pause in the hostilities so that civilians could be evacuated," said Ban.

More than 140,000 Palestinians have fled 17 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza militants, many of them seeking shelter in buildings run by the U.N. Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA). Israeli forces are trying to stop Hamas militants, which rules Gaza, and their allies from firing rockets into Israel.

Almost 750 people have been killed during the conflict in Gaza. Ban expressed condolences to the families of innocent civilians "killed as a result of the massive Israeli assault."

He once again "condemned Hamas rocket fire and called on Israel to exercise particular care to avoid any attack on United Nations premises where civilians have taken refuge."

Ban expressed alarm on Wednesday after rockets were found in a vacant U.N. school in Gaza for the second time in a week, warning in a statement that "those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children."

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Grant McCool)

GSK asks European regulator to OK malaria shot

LONDON (AP) — Pharma giant GSK said Thursday it is submitting its malaria vaccine for regulatory approval to the European Medicines Agency.

The experimental shot is the most advanced candidate vaccine for malaria but results from previous trials have been disappointing. Research published in 2012 showed the shot only reduced malaria cases by about 30 percent in babies aged six to 12 weeks, the target age for immunization. The vaccine, known as RTS,S, seems to work better in older children but its efficacy faded over time.

In a statement on Thursday, GSK said its vaccine is aimed only for use against the malaria parasite most prevalent in Africa.

There is currently no licensed vaccine for malaria. The parasitic disease is spread by mosquitoes and kills about 650,000 people every year, mostly in Africa.

Bruised, battered but still fighting: Bob Geldof

After three months of private grief over the death of his daughter Peaches, Bob Geldof returned to the world spotlight on Thursday, taking up the cause of AIDS with his trademark mix of anger and empathy.

In an interview with AFP on the sidelines of the International AIDS Conference, Geldof blasted rich countries that were becoming indifferent to the pandemic and lashed Russia, Uganda and Nigeria for passing "medieval" anti-gay laws.

Geldof, who was given a standing ovation for a talk he gave to delegates about poverty and AIDS, said the disease could be wiped out, as all the tools needed were already there.

"This can be done," he said, clicking his fingers.

"The funding to finally eliminate this thing, to get the last mile done, should be unequivocally handed over and I mean handed over," he said.

"Because it's not a global health crisis (and) it seems to be a manageable disease now, there's no political pressure."

For rich countries, AIDS was "off our radar" because of anti-retroviral drugs that made HIV a manageable disease, he complained.

"Were people dying in the United States, in France, and in Germany and in England, I'm telling you, you would have massive political pressure to deal with this, massive, huge percentages of the budget would be focussed on it," he said angrily.

"Now it's in the poorest regions of the world inevitably, and so it goes off our radar... it seems so remote from us."

- Campaigners 'should challenge governments' -

He condemned laws in Russia to bar dissemination of information about homosexuality as "medieval nonsense."

"In Russia the figures (of HIV infections) are increasing, which is one more of Putin's great disgraces," he said. "You know, the man is absolutely hopeless."

And legislation in Nigeria and Africa that punished gays was "inadequate leadership trying to get popular support," said Geldof.

Geldof said that AIDS campaigners should be "focussing on the empirical, by challenging governments" to live up to their commitments.

But, he said, a kneejerk response could only go so far. Putting in health care systems and bringing people out of poverty were the key.

"It's actually putting in place systems that help you deal with it, and that will benefit the growth of the economy."

Geldof, 62, lead singer with the Boomtown Rats, co-founded Band Aid in 1984 to help drum up money for famine relief in Ethiopia. He followed it the following year with the historic Live Aid concert, held in London and New York, to ease African poverty.

In Melbourne, Geldof made his first foray on the international stage since Peaches, 25, died in April -- a loss that, he said at the time, left his family "beyond pain."

On Wednesday, a British coroner confirmed she had died of a heroin overdose.

The inquiry found the 25-year-old TV presenter had started taking the drug again in February after giving it up three months earlier. Her mother, Paula Yates, who was Geldof's former spouse, died of an overdose in 2000.

Asked on Thursday whether it had been hard to make the return to the world stage, Geldof said simply: "No."

He dismissed the idea that campaigning for big causes was a route to self-healing. What mattered was to make a difference.

"It turns out that I can do this," Geldof said with a weary smile on his pale face.

"Sometimes, I mean, the needle twitches slightly, so you continue doing it."

U.N. rights body criticises Ireland on abortion, church homes

By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) - A United Nations human rights panel has told Ireland it should revise its highly restrictive abortion laws and that allegations of abuse of women and children at Catholic-run homes must be better investigated.

Following months of polarising debate in the Roman Catholic country, Ireland's parliament voted to allow limited access to abortion for the first time last year but restricted it to cases when a woman's life is in danger.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee remained highly critical of the law, saying Ireland should revise it to provide for additional exceptions in cases of rape, incest, serious risks to the health of the mother, or fatal foetal abnormality.

"The Committee reiterates its previous concern regarding the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion in the state," it said following hearings last week when Committee Chairman Nigel Rodley said Irish law treated women who were raped as a "a vessel and nothing more".

The government has said it would need to hold a referendum to further amend the law and deputy prime minister Joan Burton last week ruled out the possibility of a plebiscite on abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities taking place before the next parliamentary election due in 2016.

The committee said it was also concerned at the lack of prompt and effective investigations into all allegations of abuse, mistreatment or neglect of women and children at state-funded Catholic homes such as the notorious Magdalene laundries.

Ireland was shocked earlier this year by revelations of the practices at Catholic-run "mother-and-baby homes" from the 1920s to the 1960s following the discovery of an unmarked grave where the bodies of up to 800 babies could be buried.

Dublin has ordered an investigation into the treatment of children at the institutions, used to house children born out of wedlock, including accusations of forced adoptions and unusually high mortality rates among children housed there.

But the government, which has changed its minister for children twice in two months, has delayed the publication of the terms of reference for the investigation until parliament returns from its summer recess in September.

The Committee also urged a more thorough investigation into cases of symphysiotomy - childbirth operations which sever one of the main pelvic joints and unhinges the pelvis - that were performed on some 1,500 girls and women in hospitals between 1944 and 1987 without their free and informed consent.

While the Church has seen its public influence wane since the 1980s after a string of child sex abuse scandals, those in senior public office positions such as the President and members of the judiciary remain obliged to take religious oaths. The committee recommended that this practice should end.

It said legislation should also be introduced to prohibit discrimination in access to schools on the grounds of religious beliefs and was concerned over the slow progress in increasing access to secular education.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

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