Smoking Ban Passes in Virginia

The State of Virginia has passed legislation banning smoking in many public places.  Effective December 1, 2009, smoking will be banned in most restaurants and bars, although it will be permitted in private clubs, on some outdoor patios and in separate ventilated rooms.  Civil penalties for violation of the new law will amount to no more than $25.

Virginia will become the first state in the South to ban smoking in both restaurants and bars.  Passage of this type of smoking ban was believed to be unlikely in Virginia, where tobacco has historically played an important economic role (Phillip Morris is now headquartered in Virginia and has had ties to the region since colonial time).

According to Gallup, public sentiment is shifting towards these types of bans, and even a majority of smokers think restrictions on smoking in public are justified.


UK stockpiles second pandemic bird flu antiviral drug

relenza_imgThe UK government has bought 10.6 million doses of Relenza in addition to another 7.6 million doses of Tamiflu – the drug that has been stockpiled since 2005, reports the BBC.

The UK will now have enough anti-viral drugs to treat half the population. The Public health minister, Dawn Primarolo said, “The increased flu-drug stockpile means that we should be able to treat everyone who falls ill in a pandemic ”

The two bird flu anti- viral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza, work by inhibiting a key part of flu called neuraminidase (N1) which is responsible for the release of the virus from infected human cells and allows the disease to spread.

The decision to stockpile Relenza comes after a UK study last year raised concerns about resistance to Tamiflu in the H5N1 strain of bird flu which has spread in south east Asia. But in 2006, leading scientists warned that more than one anti-viral drug should be stockpiled because of potential resistance.

Research published in the journal Nature last year also concluded that no single drug would be enough to treat all the victims of a global flu pandemic.

To date there have been 403 human cases of the H5N1 bird flu virus and 254 deaths, mostly in south east Asia. Experts warn that if the virus acquires the ability to pass from human to human, then it will pose a potential threat to millions worldwide.

Zimbabwe cholera outbreak sickens 60,000 and kills 3000

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that more than 60,000 people in Zimbabwe have now been infected by cholera since the epidemic broke out in August 2008. This figure has been described by WHO as the “worst case scenario”.

Aid workers are concerned that the rainy season might worsen the situation due to increased contamination of water sources.


“We are dealing with an extraordinary public health crisis that requires from us all an extraordinary public health emergency response, and this must happen now before the outbreak causes more needless suffering and death,” said WHO’s Dr Eric Laroche.

Many hospitals have closed and most towns have poor water supply, broken sewers and uncollected waste.


The cholera epidemic has been fuelled by the collapse of Zimbabwe’s water, sanitation and health systems and has led to calls for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to be referred to the international criminal court.

World Bank proposes ‘vulnerability fund’ for poor countries

The World Bank is urging wealthy countries to set up a “vulnerability fund” to aid poor countries hit hard by the global financial crisis.

Ahead of the two day Group of Seven talks, the World bank President, Robert Zoellick said, “I propose that developed countries agree to devote 0.7 percent of their stimulus packages to a vulnerability fund to support the most needy…What began as a financial crisis has become an economic crisis, and is now becoming an employment crisis, and without countries’ action could become a human crisis on a global scale.”

He said the fund proposed by the World Bank was “doable, and would be a very positive outcome of the G20 meeting.”

“The World Bank estimates that from 2009 to 2015 between 200,000 and 400,000 more children will die of hunger each year, or between 1.4 million and 2.8 million. Some 46 million more people may fall into poverty if the global financial crisis persists… The crisis will also impede efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goals, which notably include that of slashing poverty in half by 2015,” Zoellick said.



Global Fund faces $5 billion funding gap

global-fund2The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which supplies one-quarter of all AIDS funding, two-thirds of tuberculosis funding and three-fourths of malaria funding is facing a $5 billion funding gap for its worldwide programs.Based in Geneva, the Global Fund oversees hundreds of programmes in 136 countries through public-private partnerships that have raised more than 11 billion dollars (8.5 billion euros).

Global Fund Board Chairman Rajat Gupta says the Global Fund’s progress in the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria must be sustained. He says he and other health and business leaders who attended the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland were not asking for a bailout but simply calling on donor nations to make good on their pledges to improve the world’s prosperity and its health. Gupta says that the continued support could save nearly two million additional lives in the coming years.

The executive director of the Global Fund, Michel Kazatchkine said he was concerned about the impact of the economic crisis would have on efforts to combat the diseases.

“I’m afraid of the impact the financial crisis will have, first of all on the rich countries which will find it difficult to provide resources but also the impact on poor countries as the crisis will touch them too”.


US Court orders Illinois TB patient into isolation

21 Jan 09- A US judge in Champaign County Circuit ordered 20-year-old tuberculosis (TB) patient Clasance Botembe to be isolated for 30 days after health officials and prosecutors said he failed to take precautions to avoid spreading the disease. He could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor if he defies the judge’s order.

Botembe, a native of Congo, was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis on December 1, 2008. A doctor ordered him immediately to treatment and isolation. When the Public Health District came to Botembe’s apartment for his therapy he had a visitor over and was not wearing a respirator mask. According to court papers, Botembe’s girlfriend got TB after being exposed to him.

After some deliberation about the patient’s privacy, Judge John Kennedy agreed to allow media access to the hearing in a conference room at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. N-95 respirator masks were handed to anyone entering the hearing.

The health district will arrange for Botembe to spend his isolation period in a hotel or motel and will pay for his rent, medication, food and the global positioning system device monitoring the patient’s movements.

Although this was the first case of its kind for Champaign, it is reminiscent of the TB case in May 2007 that sparked international public health uproar, where a lawyer, Andrew Speaker, infected with extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB) flew on several international flights for his wedding and honeymoon. Speaker became the first person infected with TB to be put in isolation by order of the U.S. government since 1963.