Health Highlights: Dec. 1, 2014

Health Highlights: Dec. 1, 2014

Health Highlights: Dec. 1, 2014

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Guinea and Liberia Achieve Ebola Containment Goals: WHO

Guinea and Liberia have met the World Health Organization's Dec. 1 target for isolating 70 percent of Ebola patients and safely burying 70 percent of those who die from the disease.

However, Sierra Leone did not achieve those objectives, the WHO said Monday, the Associated Press reported.

Last week, the WHO said Guinea was the only one of the three hardest-hit West African nations on track to meet the targets, which were announced two months ago.

Since then, "tremendous progress" has been made in slowing the spread of the deadly disease, and the next 60 days will be crucial, according to U.N. Ebola chief David Nabarro, the AP reported.

The first cases of Ebola were reported in March and the outbreak was declared a public health emergency in August. More than 16,000 people have been sickened and nearly 7,000 of them have died.

Ebola cases appear to be falling or stabilizing in Liberia and Guinea in recent weeks. But there has been a spike in cases around Sierra Leone's capital and a district in the country's north, the AP reported.

WHO's failure to meet its Dec. 1 targets suggests the outbreak could widen as resources become even more stretched, according to an expert.

"We need to redouble our efforts to see what we can do to reduce the spread and catch up with the virus. Right now, it doesn't look good," Oyewale Tomori, of Redeemer's University in Nigeria, who sits on WHO's Emergency Ebola committee, told the AP.

However, other experts suggest the WHO's Dec. 1 targets weren't significant.

"You want to isolate 100 percent of patients with Ebola and have 100 percent safe burials," Sebastian Funk, director of the Centre for the Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the AP. "Getting to 70 percent doesn't really mean a lot."

By Jan. 1, the WHO wants to isolate all Ebola patients and have safe burials for all victims.

"We hope that what we're seeing in Liberia will continue, but unfortunately what can happen with Ebola is that it can go to new countries, as it has already to Mali," Dr. David Heymann, an Ebola expert who previously worked for the WHO, told the AP.

"The most dangerous thing would be if people now think Ebola is over and become complacent," he added.

Pointing to a decline in cases, the United States recently announced it was reducing the size and number of Ebola clinics it had initially pledged to build in Liberia, the AP reported.


Supreme Court Hears Case on Job Protections for Pregnant Workers

Job protections for pregnant workers will be the focus of a case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Peggy Young sued United Parcel Service under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act after the company placed her on unpaid leave when she got pregnant and her doctor recommended she avoid lifting heavy items.

"I lost my health benefits," Young told The New York Times. "I lost my pension. And I lost my wages for seven months. And my disability benefits."

The Supreme Court's decision in Young's case could affect millions of working women, who account for 47 percent of the U.S. labor force and often work during and late into pregnancy.

Women are the only or main income earners in 40 percent of U.S. families with children, a Pew Research Center study says. A decision on whether employers must make accommodations for pregnancy workers will have a major impact on many families, women's groups say.

Starting in January, UPS will change its policy and offer light duty to pregnant women. However, the old policy "was lawful and consistently applied to our workers," UPS spokeswoman Kara Ross told The Times.

The Supreme Court has ruled against women's rights groups in a number of recent cases on equal pay, medical leave, abortion and contraception, and the groups hope this case will halt that losing streak.

"We've had some very big disappointments recently, but I'm hoping it won't be a uniform set of experiences," Marcia Greenberger, a co-president of the National Women's Law Center, told The Times. "I hope Peggy Young will break the mold."


FDA Panel Mulls Lifting Ban on Blood Donations by Gay Men

The U.S. government's ban on any blood donations from men who've had sex with men will be discussed by a Food and Drug Advisory panel during a two-day meeting that begins Tuesday.

The panel's conclusions will help inform the FDA -- which regulates blood donations -- as it considers whether to lift the total ban.

The ban was implemented more than three decades ago over fears about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. However, there are growing calls from gay rights activists, medical groups and lawmakers to repeal the ban because it is outdated and discriminatory, the Washington Post reported.

Recently, a Department of Health and Human Services advisory group said the ban should be replaced with a 12-month deferral period, which would prohibit blood donations from men who have sex with men in the past year.

That recommendation, along with input from its own advisory panel, will be considered by the FDA, the Post reported.

"They really are out of step with the rest of the world," Glenn Cohen, a Harvard Law School professor, told the Post. In a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Cohen and two colleagues urged the federal government to adopt a new policy.

A number of countries have dropped total bans and replaced them with shorter deferral periods, Cohen said. For example, gay men in Australia, Britain and Japan who want to donate blood must have been abstinent for a year.
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