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Top Health News in 2008


As you make up your list of New Year's resolutions for 2009, you might want to include a vow to take better care of your health. VOA takes a look back at the medical chart of good and bad health news in 2008.

Diabetes on the rise

Diabetes is often associated with obesity and lack of exercise. It can lead to blindness, kidney failure, amputation of the feet, heart disease and stroke.

In January 2008, health experts issued a warning that an alarming number of new cases of diabetes were being diagnosed every day in the U.S.

There are now at least 21 million Americans with diabetes, out of a total of 180 million people around the world diagnosed with the disease.

Dr. William Russell is with World Health Organization reported that without urgent action, diabetes-related deaths around the globe will increase by more than 50 percent in the next 10 years.

Possible tuberculosis pandemic

By February, international health experts were sounding the alarm about a severe strain of tuberculosis that appeared to be resistant to drugs normally used to treat the disease.

In 2008, the World Health Organization said the number of new drug resistant cases of TB were the highest ever recorded. Ukraine and Azerbaijan accounted for more than 20 percent of those new cases. The WHO warned there could be a tuberculosis pandemic, unless the disease was brought under control.

Setback for HIV/AIDS vaccine

In March, there was a setback in the development of a vaccine for HIV and AIDS infections.

Scientists met to chart the next step in research after two human clinical trials of a potential vaccine were halted. The trials in North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia and South Africa concluded that the drug was ineffective for many patients. and the risk of getting the disease was increased for others.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is a leading expert on HIV and AIDS, and is with the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. "There was no indication that the vaccine was protecting against infection," Dr. Fauci said. "And there was no indication that the vaccine was lowering the ultimate level of the virus after one person -- after a person -- got infected."

Bishphenol A, a health concern

Concerns had already been raised in 2007 about the safety of Bisphenol A, a chemical found in plastic bottles and containers. The controversy grew in September 2008 when another study linked exposure from Bisphenol A to the risk of heart disease, diabetes and liver problems.

By November, an independent scientific panel charged that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ignored the potential danger. The FDA monitors the health risks of plastic food containers, utensils and baby bottles.

Mothers like Reagan Morris worried what effect Bisphenol A might have on their babies.
"It is scary," Morris said. "You don't know what's true and what's false, so you might as well avoid it."

Tainted milk

Mothers and fathers in China also had reason to be afraid after at least six children died and almost 300 thousand others were sickened from milk contaminated with melamine. Some Chinese dairies had laced watered down milk with the chemical so that it would appear to have higher protein levels.

Thousands of families sought compensation. Chinese authorities have promised a safety overhaul of the country's dairies.

Complete DNA of a cancer

There was an optimistic piece of news late in 2008. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri announced they had decoded the complete DNA of a cancer patient.

The scientists say they hope to establish a simple blood test to help identify every cancer patient's genetic makeup.

Oncologist Ross Levine says he expects the research will change the way patients are treated.
"[It will help in] deciding which patients should get which treatment, which patients need more treatment, which patients are more likely to have their cancer come back," Dr. Levine said.

Cholera Outbreak

But in 2008 another deadly disease came back to haunt the people of Zimbabwe. The United Nations said in mid December the death toll had climbed to more than 1,000 and was rising quickly. More than 20,000 others had been infected since the outbreak began in August.

People contract cholera from contaminated food and water and develop severe diarrhea and dehydration.

Health officials in Zimbabwe blamed the spread of the disease on a lack of chemicals used in water treatment, as well as broken sewage pipes.



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