Health Highlights: July 19, 2010

By on July 19, 2010

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

More People Receiving AIDS Drugs: WHO

The number of people worldwide taking life-saving AIDS drugs increased 12-fold between 2003 and 2010, says the World Health Organization.

Last year alone, there was a 1.2 million increase, bringing to 5.2 million the total number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment, the Associated Press reported.

That large boost in 2009 was due to improved access to treatment globally, but especially in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Gottfried Hirnschall, director of WHO’s HIV/AIDS department.

“That’s obviously where the greatest need is in terms of numbers is, but that’s really where we have seen the most impressive scale-up in terms of treatment access,” Hirnschall told the AP.

The new figures were presented at an international AIDS conference in Vienna, Austria.

While the increase is significant, many more people still need access to antiretroviral treatment, Bill Clinton said in a keynote address, the AP reported.

“Five million people on treatment is a lot compared to where we started but still a third of those who need treatment today,” the former U.S. president said. “We cannot get to the end of this epidemic without both more money and real changes in the way we spend it.”

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Caribbean Hard Hit By Dengue Fever

Dozens of deaths have been reported as mosquito-borne dengue fever reaches epidemic levels in the Caribbean.

Warm weather and an unusually early rainy season that led to an explosion in mosquito populations are being blamed for the situation, which is straining the capacity of hospitals in some countries, the Associated Press reported.

There have been 27 deaths reported in the Dominican Republic and at least five have died and another 6,300 cases have been reported in Puerto Rico, which faces what may be its worst dengue outbreak in more than a decade, according to officials.

“We are having a really large epidemic,” Kay Tomashek, epidemiology section chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s dengue branch in Puerto Rico, told the AP.

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Drug’s Breast Cancer Promise Seems to Fade: Report

U.S. regulators could rescind approval of the cancer drug Avastin for the treatment of breast cancer, based on follow-up studies reported Friday that failed to show the medication shrank tumors or extended lives, according to published reports.

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday will ask a panel of outside experts to review the evidence on the Roche drug, the Associated Press said. It’s possible the FDA will withdraw approval of Avastin as a breast cancer treatment.

The drug is also approved for lung, colon, brain and kidney cancer.

Avastin received conditional FDA approval in 2008 based on preliminary evidence that it shrank breast cancer tumors. Continued approval would depend on subsequent studies showing a survival benefit, the agency said.

But two follow-up studies recently submitted by Roche failed to show that Avastin prolonged lives significantly longer than chemotherapy alone, the AP said. And the tumor shrinkage findings of previous studies were not confirmed by recent data, according to documents posted online, the news agency said.

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