Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Samoans grieve and bury their loved ones - Anzac military and medical personnel help the human side of the clean-up after the tsunami...

LEONE, American Samoa – Mourning islanders of American Samoa were set to hold a national prayer service Sunday for victims of the tsunami that obliterated villages on the shores of the South Pacific and left at least 176 dead.

Territorial Gov. Togiola Tulafono said Saturday the service will bring the community together in the aftermath of the disaster. It will be held at the headquarters of the Congregational Christian Church of America Samoa, the largest religious denomination in the U.S. territory.

Families are still coming to terms with the sudden losses inflicted by Tuesday's tsunami waves that roared ashore after an underwater earthquake with a magnitude of up to 8.3. The disaster claimed at least 176 lives, in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga.

In Samoa, scores of grieving people made a heartbreaking decision to sign over victims of the tsunami to the state for burial rather than take them back to ravaged villages for traditional funerals — a radical departure from Samoan tradition.

Government minister Fiana Naomi said Saturday she expected about half of Samoa's 135 victims would be buried in mass graves of up to 20 in a new cemetery in the capital Apia on Thursday following a memorial service in a nearby sports stadium. The state would carry the costs.

"The government sees the devastated areas, there are no buildings there, some villages might be relocated, people have lost everything and they can't hold ceremonies in the usual ways," Naomi said, tears welling in her eyes. "Usually they're very large communal ceremonies, but this is memorializing this event to serve as a constant reminder to us that we need to be prepared for natural disasters."

Government ministers put the proposal to about 100 village and family leaders gathered in a traditional wall-less Samoan meeting house. The government will still consider financial assistance to grieving relatives who elect to take their loved ones home.

Some leaders were concerned about the bodies remaining for so long in the city's overcrowded morgue.

Ben Taufua, who buried nine members of his family in the hills above Lalomanu on Wednesday and Thursday, said he was unhappy that some of them were inadequately chilled in a commercial cooler.

"Eight members of my family were found on the first day. When we went to pick up the bodies, they were worse than the bodies that were just found 48 hours later," he told AP with tears in his eyes. "It was very, very sad."

Faisimalo John Muaitau, a resident of Apia, said his family had agreed to bury their three victims in the new cemetery.

"It wasn't an easy decision," Muaitau said. "But we feel that what the government is doing is making a memorial for them and that is a good thing."

The village of Leone, the center of Christianity on American Samoa, was a bleak landscape of rubble. The beach meeting houses that had been the center of cultural rituals and family meetings were destroyed. An overturned van was jammed into the roof of one beach house.

Leone residents estimate the tsunami destroyed about one-third of the village, which has a population of 3,000. The victims were mostly elderly or toddlers. Four villagers were killed while making crafts on the shore.

Among the mourners is Taitasi Suapaia Fitiao, who is preparing for every parent's nightmare — burying her young child.

Her 6-year-old daughter, Vaijoresa, was ripped from her arms by the tsunami. As she floated away, out of reach, Vaijoresa pleaded, "Mom, please."

"I just can't believe that she's gone. At such a young age, you know? No parent should have to bury their child. It's supposed to be the other way around," Taitasi Fitiao said Saturday while sitting on her front porch next to a shrine to her daughter.

She said she just hopes her daughter — the youngest of her seven children — didn't suffer too much pain.

Vaijoresa's cousin, a girl, was also found dead. A boy cousin, also 6, is still missing.

The family will hold a joint service for the girls on Friday. Another memorial for the boy will be held at the bridge near where he was swept away.

And full support from Anzac military and medical personnel, and the governments of New Zealand and Australia.

Acknowledgements: McGuirk reported from Apia, Samoa. Also contributing were Associated Press writers Fili Sagapolutele in Pago Pago, Australia, and Jaymes Song and Greg Small in Honolulu and AP video journalist Haven Daley in Leone.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is New Zealand's iconic ACC scheme in jeopardy?

Is the world's first and only comprehensive no-fault state owned and operated fully accident compensation scheme under threat from the conservative John Key-led National Government in New Zealand. This scheme is the envy of the world. In 1974 the government of the day signed a covenant with the people of New Zealand that in return for the full provisions of this scheme, they would give up their right to sue, their employer or the person responsible for their accident and injuries.

The following are some comments made about what increase motorists may pay under the changes.

ACC choice - pay more or get less, says John Key

Cutbacks to ACC will be spelled out tomorrow
Govt to announce ACC changes.

Car owners are to pay more for vehicle licensing and petrol under ACC increases announced by the Government today.

ACC Minister Nick Smith revealed a $32 increase in the motor vehicle levy. This will take the fee for a petrol car up from $136.44 to $168.46.

The ACC petrol levy will rise from 9.34 cents per litre to 9.90 cents per litre.

The changes announced are much less than those proposed by ACC.

Dr Smith said he would cut entitlements rather than introduce the full increases recommended.

He said the proposed increases were too steep and the Government was introducing legislation to halve them.

"These changes are necessary because ACC's claim costs have risen by 57 per cent and its unfunded liabilities have grown from $4 billion to $13b in just four years," Dr Smith said.

The steepest levy hikes are for drivers of large motorcycles.

All motorcycles currently pay $252.69 in levies. Under the changes, while bikes under 125CC face only an increase of a few dollars, larger motorcycles will pay far heftier amounts.

601 plus cc: increases from $252.69 to $745.77.

Mopeds - which currently pay just $59 in ACC charges - will instead be classed with small motorcycles of 125 CC or less and pay $257.58 in license fees and petrol levies.

Dr Smith said motorcyclists were 16 times more likely than car drivers to be involved in accidents yet car owners were currently subsidising their ACC bills by $70 each.

The Government is also considering 'no claims' bonuses, experience rates, and lower levies for those with safer vehicles.

"Our objective is to secure the long-term future of ACC as an efficient and fair 24/7, no-fault insurance scheme for all New Zealanders.

"The changes to the law will not reduce the income compensation payments to any existing claimants but future claimants will receive lesser amounts in some circumstances."

Other key changes included:

* reversing 2008 income compensation extensions covering casuals, part-timers, non-earners and abatements for holiday pay;

* reversing vocational rehabilitation changes;

* introducing a 6 per cent hearing loss threshold;

* reversing entitlements for wilfully self-inflicted injury and suicide;

* further restricting entitlements for criminals;

* allowing incentives for employers and vehicles;

* requiring more open reporting of ACC liabilities;

* And the previously announced decision to extend the date ACC had to be fully funded by from 2014 to 2019.

ACC recommended increases in the work account levy from $1.31 to $1.89 per $100; in the earners account from $1.51 to $2.48 per $100. Also it said the motor vehicle account levy should go up to $417.28 from $287.

What will come next? Will they fundamentally change ACC? The NZ public traded off their right to sue in 1974 for a full 24 hours no-fault accident cover. Will this be under threat in coming months? We will have to wait and see.

Acknowledgements: NZPA, NZ Herald Staff

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Global rise in breast cancer due to 'Western lifestyles'...

Of all the exports from our modern world, breast cancer ranks as among the most dubious. Once thought to be a disease of the rich, it is now a global epidemic.

The rise of the cancer in Europe and America – cases have jumped 80 per cent in the UK since the 1970s – is being mirrored across the world. And scientists say increasing prosperity and the "Westernisation" of traditional lifestyles is to blame.

A richer diet, smaller families, delayed childbearing and reduced breast-feeding have driven the increase in the West, together with rising obesity and increased alcohol consumption, specialists say. Now these trends are being seen everywhere – with a growing burden of malignant disease in their wake.

An estimated 1.3 million new cases were diagnosed around the world last year. It is the commonest cancer in the UK and across Europe, even though it affects almost only one gender. In 2006, it outranked lung cancer, which affects both sexes, for the first time.

In Japan, Singapore and Korea – countries once renowned for their low rates – cases have doubled or tripled in the past 40 years.

In China, urban cancer registries have recorded 20 to 30 per cent increases in the past decade. India has seen similar rises and cases have doubled in parts of Africa. There are doubts, especially in Africa, about how far better recording has contributed to the apparent rise. But scientists agree that the disease is rampaging across the globe.

However, they disagree about the best way to curb it. Some claim the best hope lies in developing a preventive drug – a hormonal cocktail that would act like a vaccine and provide lifelong protection – and criticise the world's failure to focus attention on it.

Others demand political action, raising public awareness and galvanising governments to provide screening and early treatment that gives women the best chance of surviving. A third school of thought emphasises the need for a public health strategy to highlight the risks of alcohol, obesity and lack of exercise.

Peggy Porter, of the Fred Hutchinson Research Centre in Seattle, Washington, writing in the current New England Journal of Medicine, says the world must wake up to the growing threat.

"As more countries modernise, more women will enter an increasingly sedentary workforce, delay childbearing, exert control over their reproductive lives, live longer and eat a more Westernised diet. Their breast cancer rates will no doubt increase. It is crucial that women's awareness of their risk and their expectations of their government and the medical community regarding detection and treatment increase at a similar rate."

Professor Porter said the biggest barrier to improved care for women was ignorance. "In a lot of countries, women are still afraid to know. When Betty Ford [wife of US President Gerald Ford] admitted she had breast cancer in 1974, it changed the world. Women who had seen it as a death sentence became willing to talk about it, pushed for more care and more research. Other countries need to follow that lead."

Valerie Beral, head of the Cancer Research UK epidemiology unit at Oxford University, said that to blame Westernisation was to miss the central cause – changes in child-bearing.

"We don't need to seek subtle explanations when we know the main one. China has gone from the six-child family to the one-child family in a couple of generations. Most women in the past had six or seven children – it was fairly standard across the world. Each child was breast fed for two to two-and-a-half years, which meant they stopped ovulating and didn't conceive. The hormonal changes that occur around child-bearing and during breast-feeding are protective for life."

We need to investigate the nature of this hormonal protection and synthesise it, she said. "If we could find out why child-bearing gives life-long protection against breast cancer we might develop a hormonal cocktail that could be given to women at age 18 for a year which would have the same effect. I am frustrated that this is not a research priority."

Peter Boyle, head of the International Agency for Cancer Research in Lyon, which will publish global cancer rates next month, said alcohol was the most worrying driver for younger women. "The rise is a huge problem and one which is growing enormously quickly. There are places which 30 years ago had very low rates where it is growing very rapidly. In every region it is the commonest or second most common cancer.

"My concern is over the rise in drinking, especially among young women. For each single unit of alcohol per day, the risk rises by 7 per cent. It's the ladettes who hit the bars on a Friday night that I worry about."

Why rates have risen

* The rising breast cancer rates around the world are linked to increased exposure to the female hormone oestrogen, because of changes in reproduction and diet.

* Improved nutrition means girls reach puberty earlier and women have the menopause later. A century ago, girls had their first periods at 16 and 17, but today it is morelikely to be 12 to 13.

* Each year that the menopause is delayed increases the risk of contracting breast cancer by 3 per cent.

* Increased numbers of women going out to work has led to later births, smaller families and fewer women breastfeeding. Each year that childbirth is postponed beyond the mid-20s increases the breast cancer risk by 3 per cent.

* The more children a woman has, the lower her risk of breast cancer so the trend towards smaller families has increased many women's exposure.

* Breast cancer rates vary widely around the world. Japan has one fifth of the cases diagnosed in the US. However, Japanese women who move to the US rapidly acquire the same risk as American women.

* Breast cancer in the UK has risen by 84 per cent since the 1970s. In 2005, 38,212 women were diagnosed with the disease.

* Breast cancer is the commonest cancer in the UK even though it mostly affects one sex (there are a few hundred cases in men). Lung cancer, the next most common, which affects both sexes, was diagnosed in 30,997 men and women in 2005.

Acknowledgements: The Independent - Health and Families: 24 Jan 2008