Health Highlights: July 24, 2010

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

Some VA Hospitals to Get OK for Medical Marijuana

Pending new federal guidelines will permit the use of medical marijuana for patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics in the 14 states where medical marijuana is legal, according to news reports.

The Veterans Affairs Department will issue a directive shortly that’s intended to clarify the existing policy that says veterans can be denied pain medication if they use illegal drugs. Veterans groups have long complained this could prevent veterans from VA benefits if they were caught using medical marijuana, the Associated Press reported.

The new directive won’t alllow VA doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, which is considered an illegal drug under federal law. But it will make it clear that in the 14 states where state and federal laws are in conflict, VA clinics will permit the use of medical marijuana for veterans already taking it under other clinicians, the AP said.


Funding Cuts Could Harm AIDS Fight: Experts

Global progress against AIDS may be threatened if rich nations don’t increase their funding for programs to combat the disease, experts warned at an international AIDS conference in Vienna, Austria.

There are concerns about a possible shortfall in funding for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is a major supporter of AIDS programs worldwide, the Associated Press reported.

At the end of 2009, the Global Fund was financing programs providing lifesaving antiretroviral treatment to 2.5 million people.

“This is not the time to withdraw resources for AIDS,” said Nicci Stein, director of the Canadian-based Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development, the AP reported. “We risk losing the investments made to date and we will be betraying those communities who for the first time have real hope for the future.”

The great deal of progress that has been made could be lost if rich nations reduce their financial support, agreed Global Fund executive director Michel Kazatchkine.

“I know there is an economic crisis but then I’m saying this is a political decision and politics is about choices and where you put your priorities,” he told the AP.


Meat Linked to Weight Gain: Study

Reducing the amount of meat you eat may help you control your weight, according to U.K. researchers.

They studied nearly 400,000 European adults and found that eating meat was associated with weight gain, even when people consumed the same amount of calories, BBC News reported.

Processed meats such as ham and sausages had the strongest link with weight gain, said the Imperial College London researchers.

They said their findings suggest that high-protein diets may not help people lose or control weight in the long term, and reinforce public health messages urging people to reduce their meat consumption, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


Many States Cutting Programs for Elderly and Disabled

Budget deficits have led many states to slash home-care services for the elderly and the disabled, such as housekeeping, meal deliveries and assistance for family caregivers.

The cuts threaten to reverse the long-term trend of helping extend the number of years people can stay in their homes, The New York Times reported.

Since the recession began, at least 25 states and the District of Columbia have curbed home-care services for the elderly and disabled, according to a research group called the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Among the reductions in service:

  • Alabama cut housekeeping services for more than 1,000 elderly people.
  • Meals on Wheels in Illinois stopped accepting new clients because the group wasn’t being reimbursed by the state.
  • Last year, Florida put 69,000 people on waiting lists for home or community services and 5,700 of them ended up in Medicaid nursing homes.
  • Arizona reduced independent living supports and respite programs for family caregivers.
  • In the next year, Kansas will cut independent living services for 2,800 people with disabilities.

“The situation is grim, and its safe to say that present trends are expected to continue,” said JoAnn Lamphere, the director of state government relations for health and long-term care for AARP, told The Times. “Nearly every state has proposed cuts of some sort to Medicaid. Some might seem small, but it’s death by a thousand slashes.”