January 11, 2010

Health Minister asks NRIs to invest in pharma sector, set up medical colleges

Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad today invited persons of Indian origin (PIO) and non-resident Indians (NRIs) to become partners in India's health sector and highlighted the potential of investment in areas such as drug manufacturing and medical education.

Addressing the 8th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), an annual convention of PIOs and non-resident Indians (NRIs), Mr Azad said India was poised to become the pharmacy of the world.

He said drugs worth $ 80 billion were on the verge of going off-patent and, with India's capacity to manufacture drugs at competitive prices, there was a big opportunity for investment in this sector.

He said the Government had already streamlined and strengthened the regulatory framework for the sector. "I take this opportunity to invite the NRI entrepreneurs to come forward and invest in the drug manufacturing sector which has bright prospects," he said.

The Minister also detailed the steps taken by his Ministry to promote medical education in the country to deal with the shortage of medical human resources.

He told the convention that, besides recognition of foreign degrees, many changes had been effected to facilitate opening of new medical colelges and increase the capacity of existing colleges.

He said the requirement of land for setting up a medical college had been reduced from 25 to 20 acres across the country. In the North-East, this land could be in two parcels of 10 acres each.

In the cities of Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Bangalore and Kanpur, medical colleges can be located in multi-storeyed buildings with floor area as per Medical Council of India (MCI) norms and in such cases the land requirement has been further reduced to 10 acres.

Mr Azad said faculty and staff requirements had also been rationalised. The teaching experience required for the post of Professor and Associate Professor has been reduced by one year each in the respective feeder cadres to speed up the promotion of the teachers to overcome the difficulties being faced by medical colleges. The requirement of bed strength and bed occupancy required at the stage of inception has been rationalized for the North Eastern States and Hill States.

The Minister said that, apart from the religious and charitable trusts, now companies registered under the Companies Act had also been made eligible to open medical colleges, which has increased the feasibility of opening new colleges. He said there was a need for new medical colleges, particularly in the under-served and unserved states.

"With these amended provisions, I appeal to the NRIs to come forward and invest in setting up the medical colleges or take up teaching or practice or contribute in any other way you wish towards furthering the cause of the nation," he added.

Link: Original Article

Rural medicine (BRMS) degree to impose restrictions on takers

One of the first states to respond to the Central government's 'rural' medicine course, Gujarat is in the process of identifying district hospitals with 200 and 300 bed-capacity for setting up colleges. The Bachelor of Rural Medical Science (BRMS) is touted as a course that would prove as a boon for all, but the fact that the degree does not leave scope for further education in the medical field has been overlooked.
“Principals of medical colleges, vice-chancellors of medical universities and directors of medical education of all states will meet in February to discuss the effective implementation of the course,” said Dr H P Bhalodia, Dean of Medical Faculty, B J Medical College.

He added: “To ensure that the trained doctors do not move to other districts or study further, the degree will remain invalid in other districts. Also, there would be no scope of further education in the medical field with it.”

Gujarat has over 1,000 posts of medical officers lying vacant as per the latest figures.

The course is being floated as an answer to the shortage, but it will put a full stop to chances of further studies for those students who opt for it.

Even though states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh have not responded to the Central government directive to give a ratio estimate of the number of patients to doctors, Gujarat has been quick to respond. Hospitals in the 20 districts in Gujarat are being identified and will be developed with a Central government fund of Rs 20 crore per college. In the three-and-a-half year duration of the course, the students will learn all subjects that the MBBS students study minus the final year super-specialisation subject.

Dr Ketan Desai, president: Medical Council of India, said, “Students can only join the course in the district they belong to; they will also be required to serve in the same districts only. The restricted licence of the 'rural doctors' will be renewed on a yearly basis. Also, retired professors within 70 years of age will be engaged as trainers.”

Link: Original Article

January 10, 2010

MCI norms to prohibit doctors from attending conferences financed by pharma companies

Through an amendment in its rules that govern the medical ethics in the country, the Medical Council of India (MCI) has prohibited the medical practitioners from attending seminars or events financed by pharmaceutical companies.

“A medical practitioner shall not accept any travel facility inside the country or outside, including rail, air, ship, cruise tickets, paid vacations etc, from any pharmaceutical or allied healthcare industry or their representatives for self and family members for vacation or for attending conferences, seminars, workshops, etc,” reads the MCI (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) (Amendment) Regulations, 2009.

Last year, major medical events attracted over 10,000 doctors, who were accompanied by their family members, resulting in a huge “tourist” turnout. According to market estimates, during such event the huge “tourist” inflow is a boon for the tourism sector and at least Rs 100 crore was generated last year.

However, the prospect of such events appears bleak this year after the new MCI guidelines come into effect. Gifts and all other favours offered by any pharmaceutical or allied health care industry or their representatives have been banned under the amended rules.

The recently notified MCI amendment came following the American Medical Association’s efforts to restrain the unethical attempts by certain pharmaceutical companies to influence drug recommendation by the medical practitioners.

Medical associations have welcomed of the amendment calling it a positive step. “Some pharmaceutical companies have been promoting corruption for undue benefits, bringing in bad reputation for other pharmaceutical companies as well as medical professionals,” said Dr S S Agarwal, national vice-president of Indian Medical Association.

“The amendments will pave the way to have a control over such unethical practices. Even as the immediate impact of the amendment cannot be judged, inclusion of the issue in ethics regulation will help control such activities,” he added.

Others in the industry are, however, not quite enthusiastic over the development. “In absence of any strict penalties against such violations, the norms will once again be limited to voluntary efforts. With direct funding coming under scanning, the companies will now look for alternative routes to provide such benefits to their favoured doctors,” said a pharmaceutical trader.

Link: Original Article

25,000 Indian-origin British doctors to return to India

Nearly 25,000 British doctors of Indian origin are set to return to India within two to four years and some of them are "most likely to join the seven AIIMS-like institutions" proposed to be set up by the central government.

"There are around 15,000 young Indian-origin doctors undergoing training in different parts of Britain who will return to India," Ramesh Mehta, president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, told media.

"Also, at least 10,000 senior doctors of Indian origin who are retiring from their jobs in the UK, are set to return to India," said the doctor, currently on an Indian tour.

He said they have already talked to the Indian health ministry and have got a favourable response. "The government has allowed us to come back and practise."

He said the ministry told the association that there will be a problem in finding quality doctors to man the seven new medical colleges modelled after the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

"We believe that these young doctors who are undergoing training in the UK currently, can be of great help in the new AIIMS-like institutes," he said.

The central government has given a go ahead to seven AIIMS-type medical institutions in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Each of these institutes will come up with a cost of Rs.300 crore (Rs.3 billion).

Link: Original Article

Looking back on the H1N1 pandemic

The year that has ended saw the world coming to grips with a new influenza pandemic after an interval of 40 years. It was not the much-feared H5N1 bird flu virus. Nor did outbreaks begin in East Asia, as was believed to be likely. Instead, the first human cases appeared in April on the other side of the globe. Thereafter, in a world interconnected by rapid air travel, the new virus showed up in country after country. By June, the World Health Organisation officially declared the start of the flu pandemic. Analysing the viral genome, scientists swiftly established that it had jumped to humans from pigs and possessed a mix of human, pig, and bird flu genes. Mercifully, the novel H1N1 strain has been quite unlike the one that set off the catastrophic 1918 pandemic. Swine flu, as the new virus is commonly called, infected many millions of people around the world during 2009. But the vast majority recovered easily. One key difference is that while seasonal flu predominantly kills the old, the new virus has proved life-threatening to younger people too. Pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions have been particularly at risk. Even healthy youth have sometimes fallen victim. Autopsies carried out on some of those who succumbed in New York showed that the pandemic strain was damaging cells all along the airway, including deep into the lungs. Bacterial co-infection greatly increased the risk of developing severe disease.

WHO’s assessment is that the true number of fatalities from the H1N1 virus worldwide was higher than the approximately 12,200 reported because many deaths would not have been recognised as flu-related. U.S. health officials recently estimated that 50 million Americans (a sixth of the country’s population) caught the disease, 213,000 needed hospitalisation, and nearly 10,000 died of the disease. In India, a young man who flew in from New York in May became the country’s first officially confirmed case. Three months later, the virus claimed the life of a Pune schoolgirl. Since then, more than 840 laboratory-confirmed deaths have been reported from various States. In South Asia, according to a recent WHO update, influenza activity continues to be intense, particularly in northern India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Although the moderate impact of the pandemic was the “best possible health news of the decade,” the world health body’s Director-General Margaret Chan has cautioned that it would be prudent to continue monitoring the virus’ evolution for another year. By focussing minds and resources, the pandemic has left the nations of the world better prepared to deal with global health emergencies.

Link: Original Article

Three US publications release Top Medical Advances in 2009

The largest-ever genetic study of autism spectrum disorders and a remarkable success for gene therapy in reversing inherited blindness have made it to the list of top scientific achievements in 2009, according to three US publications: Time magazine, Discover magazine and the journal Science. Both the studies were conducted at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"Our researchers and physicians are pushing the boundaries of biomedical knowledge, and advancing care for children worldwide," said Philip R Johnson, MD, chief scientific officer at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"We are proud to see some of these exciting accomplishments recognised in a broad public forum."

The largest-ever genetic study of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) identified DNA variations that account for as many as 15 percent of all ASD cases. The study appeared in April in the journal Nature.

In October, researchers from the Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics (CCMT) at Children's Hospital and from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine reported in The Lancet that they used a single injection of gene therapy to improve vision in five children and seven adults with Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA), a rare form of inherited blindness.

Six of the patients improved enough to no longer be classified as legally blind.

Discover magazine, covering the 100 top science stories of 2009 in its Jan./Feb 2010 issue, cited the autism study in its #1 article, "Vaccine Phobia Becomes a Public Health Threat."

The same issue of Discover also lauded the LCA gene therapy clinical trial as an example of the "remarkable turnaround" in the fortunes of gene therapy in an article titled, "The Age of Genetic Medicine Begins."

The weekly journal, Science, took a similar approach in its brief news article in its Dec. 18 issue, "Gene Therapy Returns."

Finally, Time magazine cited the autism gene study among its top 10 medical breakthroughs.

Link: Original Article

US may allow 5,000 more Indian doctors for residency training

The US may allow in nearly 5,000 more Indian doctors for residency training every year, an American doctors' body said here on Saturday.

Vinod K. Shah, president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), said he met US President Barack Obama and appealed to him to remove the present cap of 18,000 on residency training for US and foreign doctors.

"The case is now with a special committee and most likely to get a nod. The administration is planning to allow a total of 15,000 more doctors to do residency training in the US," he added.

At least 30-35 percent of the additional doctors will be Indians, said Jayesh Shah, another AAPI member, adding : "You can expect approximately 5,000 more Indian doctors getting this benefit in the near future."

The doctors are allowed to practice in the US after residency training.

The US administration has put a cap of 18,000 on the number of doctors for residency training annually, of which 16,000 are local doctors. Out of the 2,000 doctors of foreign origin, Indian medicos have a share of 30 to 35 percent.

"Once the federal cap is removed, it will help many Indian doctors to specialize in new areas," Vinod K. Shah added. Currently, over 61,000 Indian-origin doctors are working in the US.

Indian-origin doctors from America, Britain, Canada and Australia are currently in New Delhi to deliberate on several healthcare issues and devise ways to work with Indian counterparts in bettering the healthcare delivery mechanism.

Link: Original Article

The Most Obvious Scientific Discoveries of 2009 revealed

In the field of science, studies are conducted to confirm what we suspect to be the case is actually true. However, some results come as absolutely no surprise.

1. High heels lead to foot pain

A study in the October issue of the journal Arthritis Care & Research found that nearly 64 percent of older women who reported foot pain regularly wore high heels, pumps or sandals at some point in their lives.

2. Men much more interested than women in casual sex

A survey of 860 college students discovered that men are more likely than women to report having had casual sex, and they express a greater desire for it than do women. The findings were published this year in the journal Human Nature.

3. Children are affected when a parent suffers from depression

Life is hard for kids whose parents are depressed, according to a study, which showed that a parent's depression increases a child's sense of responsibility and feelings of loneliness.

4. Coed dorms fuel sex and drinking

Scientists found that university students in coed housing are 2.5 times more likely to binge drink every week than undergrads in single-sex dorms. The findings were detailed in the Journal of American College Health.

5. Sweets taste better when you're high

A new study found that "endocannabinoids (the active ingredient in marijuana) both act in the brain to increase appetite and also modulate taste receptors on the tongue to increase the response to sweets. The findings were published online in December in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

6. G-rated children's films are very straight

Scientists found that kids' movies promote the idea of heterosexual love, while leaving out any mention of homosexual relationships.

7. Eating lots of red meat and processed meat is bad for you

Scientists found that eating lots of saturated fat filled red meat, and highly processed and salted meats, is associated with a higher risk of death. The findings were detailed in a paper in the March 23 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

8. Kids' TV is full of ads for high-fat and high-sugar foods

Scientists found that 70% of food commercials on children's networks touted fast-food restaurants, sugary food, chips, crackers, or sugar-added beverages.

Link: Original Article

January 01, 2010

12,220 worldwide died from swine flu says WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO), yesterday, estimated that swine flu had claimed at least 12,220 deaths worldwide. However the premier health body also said that the H1N1 pandemic seemed to be on the decline.

This could be deduced by the fact that this total death toll figure, as on December 27, was up by only 700 deaths since last week. In contrast, the week before that it had gone up by as much as 1500 deaths.

The WHO report listed places in central and eastern Europe as the areas with the highest current rate of current transmission, with the focal points over few weeks being in Georgia, Montenegro and Ukraine.

It also said that respiratory infections, including seasonal flu, ranged strong in parts of eastern and southern Europe including Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia's Urals region.

The widespread concern surrounding H1N1 notwithstanding, WHO’s data estimates seasonal flu itself to claims casualties in the range of 250,000 to 300,000 globally, each year.

The report also said that H1N1 was while the rate of infection remained widespread in western Europe, overall its activity seemed to be peaking.

Further it said that, again, while transmission was widespread in the US, Canada and Mexico, overall it had substantially declined in North, as well as in South and Central America, and in the Caribbean. Also, the infection seemed to be going down in east Asia, including in China, Japan and Taiwan.

Director-General of the WHO, Margaret Chan, while speaking in Geneva, emphasized that the H1N1 pandemic – which was mainly being addressed through extensive vaccination programs – could take up to 2011 to be completely conquered.

Link: Original Article

Medical students with 3 years in rural areas may get 25% quota

A quota of a different kind awaits medical students who are keen to pursue a post graduate course in medicine with the Union Health Ministry mulling reservation of 25 per cent seats in PG courses for MBBS doctors who have practised for three years in rural areas.

The proposal, which was forwarded to the Health ministry by the Medical Council of India (MCI), is one of the many steps which the government is planning to take to address the problem of few doctors being keen to practise in rural areas.

"The Government has pumped in a huge amount of money to build infrastructure as part of the National Rural Health Mission, but due to lack of doctors, most of the Primary Health Centres and the Community Health Centres are shut," MCI President Ketan Desai said.

Desai said the medical council had sent these proposals to the ministry along with others like a separate medical degree for the rural practitioners and extra marks for PG students who have practised in rural areas.

The MCI has called a meeting on February 4-5 with principals of 300 medical colleges, the Directors of Medical Education of all states and Union Health Ministry officials in this matter.

The Centre is also contemplating a separate, shorter duration bachelor of medicine course for students of notified rural areas in the country.

The hinterland, where few doctors want to serve, could soon have a dedicated corps of medical practitioners drawn from among students raised in rural areas.

The novel scheme would comprise of a medical degree of 3-1/2 duration in institutes set up in rural areas.

The Bachelor of Rural Medicine and Surgery (BRMS) degree would be offered by institutes in rural areas with an annual sanctioned strength of either 25 or 50 students. Selection of students would be based on merit in the 10+2 examination with physics, chemistry and biology as subjects.

A student who has had his entire schooling in a rural area with a population not more than 10,000 would be eligible for selection, which would be done by professional bodies set up by the Directorate of Medical Education of the state governments.

The idea was to get students from rural areas who were willing to work in villages as doctors from outside didn't want to live and work there, Desai said.

The ministry has already had two rounds of discussion on this scheme. The proposal had been sent to the ministry way back in 2000, but has been dug out now to address the issue of lack of medical practitioners in the rural hinterland.

The BRMS graduates would be registered in a parallel mechanism by state medical boards. They would be allowed to practise only in the notified rural area from which they graduated.

"This new course would be of a shorter duration as the students would not be interested in learning about kidney transplants and angioplasties. It would instead concentrate on local diseases and basic health problems of the villages," he said.

Link: Original Article

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