Entries in World Health Organization (13)


Man Petitions World Health Organization: 'We Are Trans, Not Sick'

Youtube/notsick2012(NEW YORK) -- Maxwell Zachs is on a global crusade to normalize what until now has been considered a mental illness -- being transgender.

Zachs, 25, was born female, but three years ago he transitioned to male.  In 2009, he began taking the hormone testosterone and in 2010, he went to Thailand for a double mastectomy and male chest contouring.

"There is nothing wrong with me.  I am perfectly healthy, I just happen to be transgender," the Londoner told ABC News in an email.

Now, he has filed a petition with demanding that the World Health Organization (WHO) eliminate the diagnosis "transsexualism" from the mental disorders section of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).  He says the designation only contributes to discrimination.

"I'm a person like everybody else and I have the right to live my life without stigma, without people telling me I am sick because of how I live or how I look," he says in his petition, which has been signed by 42,000 people.  "Gender is not an illness, it's just part of who I am, like being Jewish or vegetarian or sometimes talking too much!"

Zachs' position is controversial.  When being transgender is no longer considered a medical condition, will insurance companies in the United States refuse to pay for medical treatments -- counseling, hormone treatment and sometimes surgery -- for those whose gender identity doesn't match their DNA?

The ICD is the listing of medical conditions used by the 194 countries which are part of the World Health Assembly, the governing body of the WHO.  It is used as a standard diagnostic tool for epidemiology, health management and clinical purposes worldwide.

The current edition, ICD-10, was endorsed in 1990 and is being revised.  The ICD-11 is expected to be complete by 2015.

The WHO has five classifications for gender identity disorders in adults and in children, including transsexualism.

According to the ICD-10, transsexualism is defined as "a desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by the wish to make one's body as congruent as possible with one's preferred sex through surgery and hormonal treatment; presence of the transsexual identity for at least two years persistently; and not a symptom of another mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, or associated with chromosome abnormality."

Zachs, who has college degrees in English literature, indigenous studies and constitutional law, is a rabbinical student at a progressive yeshiva in Sweden and wants the classification "transsexualism" to go the same route as "homosexuality," which was discarded as a mental disorder by WHO in 1990, when the ICD-9 was revised.

Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the WHO, said that Zachs' petition should be directed at the international "expert group" that is charged with updating the ICD-10.  Ultimately, they will make recommendations to the World Health Assembly and its member nations will vote on changes.

Two years ago, the WHO secretariat, its administrative body, recommended the ICD-10 be "updated," according to Hartl.  Now, an external expert group, comprising medical professionals from member nations, is debating the matter.

But removing the classification from the ICD could be problematic.

"If they're not 'mentally disordered' than they are 'normal,'" said New York psychiatrist Jack Drescher, who sits on the ICD-11 working group that is evaluating gender identity disorders.

And transgender Americans see that as a double-edged sword.

"Honestly, taking it out of the WHO book completely would surely eliminate the possibility of insurance coverage," said Claire Louise Swinford, executive director of Transhaven, an advocacy organization based in St. Louis.  "You can't bill for what you can't code. And at the end of the day, the ICD is a coding book."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


WHO: Antibiotic Resistance Could Bring ‘End of Modern Medicine’

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(COPENHAGEN, Denmark) -- As bacteria evolve to evade antibiotics, common infections could become deadly, according to Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization.

Speaking at a conference in Copenhagen, Chan said antibiotic resistance could bring about “the end of modern medicine as we know it.”

“We are losing our first-line antimicrobials,” she said Wednesday in her keynote address at the conference on combating antimicrobial resistance.  “Replacement treatments are more costly, more toxic, need much longer durations of treatment, and may require treatment in intensive care units.”

Chan said hospitals have become “hotbeds for highly-resistant pathogens” like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, “increasing the risk that hospitalization kills instead of cures.”

Indeed, diseases that were once curable, such as tuberculosis, are becoming harder and more expensive to treat.

Chan said treatment of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis was “extremely complicated, typically requiring two years of medication with toxic and expensive medicines, some of which are in constant short supply.  Even with the best of care, only slightly more than 50 percent of these patients will be cured.”

Antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella, E. coli and gonorrhea have also been discovered.

“Some experts say we are moving back to the pre-antibiotic era.  No.  This will be a post-antibiotic era.  In terms of new replacement antibiotics, the pipeline is virtually dry,” said Chan.  “A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it.  Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

The dearth of effective antibiotics could also make surgical procedures and certain cancer treatments risky or even impossible, Chan said.

“Some sophisticated interventions, like hip replacements, organ transplants, cancer chemotherapy and care of preterm infants, would become far more difficult or even too dangerous to undertake,” she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


WHO Concludes Review of Hormonal Contraceptives and HIV Infections

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GENEVA) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) advised women with or at risk for HIV to continue using hormonal contraceptives to prevent pregnancy.

WHO officials held a meeting with 75 experts from Jan. 31 to Feb. 1 to review several epidemiological studies on hormonal contraception.

In October 2011, a study published in Lancet Infectious Diseases suggested the use of hormonal contraceptives may cause HIV infections to increase in woman. At the conclusion of the WHO meeting, the Guidelines Review Committee said the contraceptives were safe but recommended the use of condoms and other contraceptions for women who have HIV or are at risk for infection.

"The group noted the importance of hormonal contraceptives and of HIV prevention for public health and emphasized the need for individuals living with or at risk of HIV to also always use condoms, male or female, as hormonal contraceptives are not protective against HIV transmission or acquisition," according to the report.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


WHO ‘Deeply Concerned’ by Lab-Created Bird Flu Mutation

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) says it is “deeply concerned” about researchers creating a more contagious and fatal form of the H5N1 bird flu.

Researchers in the Netherlands have manipulated the virus to make it more transmissible among humans, and it could potentially kill millions if released into the public.

The findings were set to be released in the U.S. journal Science, but the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, an independent committee that advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies, reviewed it last Tuesday and warned that bioterrorists could replicate the study methods to create a weapon of biological warfare.

On Friday, the WHO echoed the agencies’ sentiments by saying that the studies could open the door to “possible risks and misuses.”

The current H5N1 strain is more often found in birds and not easily transmissible to humans. Hundreds of millions of birds have died from the virus since it was first identified in 1996. By comparison, only an estimated 600 people have been infected. About 60 percent of those who get the bird flu die, according to the WHO.

Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, said he created the contagious form of the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain “easily” by mutating a few genes within the strain. He agreed to exclude methodology details from his published reports on the new strain.

“We know which mutation to watch for in the case of an outbreak, and we can then stop the outbreak before it is too late,” Fouchier said in a statement on the medical center’s website. “Furthermore, the finding will help in the timely development of vaccinations and medication.”

Fouchier is one of many researchers worldwide looking at what kind of mutations would make the H5N1 more dangerous to humans.

In May, the WHO member countries adopted a Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework which set rules on sharing information about flu viruses that have pandemic potential.

“While it is clear that conducting research to gain such knowledge must continue, it is also clear that certain research, and especially that which can generate more dangerous forms of the virus than those which already exist, has risks,” the WHO said in a public statement.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


WHO Study Shows Malaria Deaths Decreased Globally

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(GENEVA) -- Malaria deaths have decreased worldwide says a new report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the World Malaria Report 2011, mortality rates from malaria have fallen by 25 percent since 2000. The fall can be attributed to campaigns including promoting the use of bed nets and the distribution of malaria drugs.

"We are making significant progress in battling a major public health problem. Coverage of at-risk populations with malaria prevention and control measures increased again in 2010, and resulted in a further decline in estimated malaria cases and deaths," said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.

African countries accounted for 81 percent of 216 million cases of malaria recorded in 2010 and 86 percent of cases affected children under 5 years of age.

Despite these gains in the malaria fight, the WHO says projected funding shows a significant decrease which could affect the strides already made in the global fight against the disease.

"We need a fully-resourced Global Fund, new donors, and endemic countries to join forces and address the vast challenges that lie ahead. Millions of bed nets will need replacement in the coming years, and the goal of universal access to diagnostic testing and effective treatment must be realized," said Dr Robert Newman, Director of WHO's Global Malaria Programme.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Would Stricter Movie Ratings Deter Kids from Smoking?

Doug Menuez/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The World Health Organization recommends slapping adult ratings on movies with scenes that depict smoking, an approach that some anti-tobacco advocates believe could deter kids from lighting up.

Although WHO guidance is largely symbolic, and most nations have ignored it, supporters of controlling kids' access to these images now say restrictive ratings could influence what movie makers are marketing to kids, according to their policy paper in this week's issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.

In it, Christopher Millett, a public health expert at Imperial College London, and his co-authors from the UC San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, director Dr. Stanton Glantz, and consultant Jonathan Polansky, said that some governments provide "generous subsidies to the U.S. film industry" for movies that indirectly promote tobacco use in youngsters.  They would like to turn that around with a policy that relies on economic disincentives, such as making sure that films that include tobacco use are ineligible for public subsidies.

However, others who are just as committed to reducing youngsters' risk of tobacco-associated cancer, heart disease and lung disease, don't think there is enough evidence to demonstrate that controlling who gets into a movie theater can reduce the likelihood kids will become smokers.

Simon Chapman, a public health professor at the University of Sydney in Australia, and Matthew C. Farrelly, a public health policy researcher with RTI International in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, offered a four-part argument against the ratings.

First, they said, no one has definitively demonstrated that watching others smoke onscreen leads to more smoking among those in the audience.  Furthermore, they said, most of the studies purporting to show that link are muddied by many other factors in kids' lives.

"Movies showing smoking might have a lot more in them that might appeal to youth at risk of smoking than just smoking," they wrote.

As a result, they discounted the strength of published estimates suggesting that 390,000 American youngsters smoke because of what they see onscreen, or that imposing adult ratings on films that include actors smoking would likely prevent 200,000 youngsters from becoming smokers.  The figures fail to take into account that kids are drawn to smoking by far more than just what they see at the movies, they said.

A third element of their opposition to tougher ratings is that singling out the movie industry ignores the many other media that contain images of smoking, including the Internet.

Finally, as a matter of principle, they objected to censorship of movies, books, art or theater as a means of tackling public health issues.  Chapman and Farrelly suggested that censorship might turn off citizens and politicians who would otherwise support stricter tobacco control measures, such as blocking "commercial product placement by the tobacco industry."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Cellphone Cancer Concerns: What Else Is a Danger in Your Home?

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- After a World Health Organization (WHO) study concluded that cellphones can possibly cause cancer, some are wondering what else in their homes and their everyday lives may be just as, or even more, dangerous to their health.

The World Health Organization, whose International Agency for Research on Cancer announced the results of its year-long cellphone study Tuesday, estimates that there are five billion cellphone users globally, representing nearly three-quarters of the world's population.

But roughly 30 other studies have tried, and failed, to establish any link between cellphones and cancer since cellphones hit the consumer market in the late 1970s.  One study even found those who used cellphones occasionally had a lower cancer risk than those who used old-fashioned land lines.

Even so, the latest decision from the WHO placed cellphones on a list of possible carcinogens that includes the pesticide DDT and gasoline engine exhaust.

So what else could be lurking in your home, posing as a possible cancer risk?

ABC News brought in Michael Knox, an electrical engineering professor at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University to examine a New York couple's home, testing their cell phone, Wi-Fi enabled computer, and microwave, each a vital part of the Howards' daily life.

"If I looked at these signal levels," Knox said of the radio waves popping on his testing device.  "If I had to say which one do you want to stay away from the most?  The microwave oven.  If anything, it's transmitting a lot of energy," he said.

Knox's conclusion, that other items in the home may be even more dangerous than cellphones, matches the reaction among many doctors and experts to the WHO study, who say the data on cellphone use and brain cancer is still inconclusive.

"While experimental evidence and very limited human studies suggest that we should be cautious, people should realize there are many things we are exposed to every day that also is classified by IARC as possibly carcinogenic," said Dr. Peter Shields, chief of Georgetown University Hospital's cancer genetics and epidemiology program in Washington, D.C. "The classification used by IARC for cellphones is the lowest of all the carcinogenic classes, and no one should think that cell phones pose the same risk as smoking and asbestos."

The WHO decided, in effect, to err on the side of caution.

"[The] IARC is saying that we should be cautious and think through what we do when we regulate exposures from cell phones," Shields told ABC News. "They follow the precautionary principle and want to maximally protect public health."

Nevertheless, some experts believe the evidence, inconclusive as it is, warrants caution. ABC News reached out to 92 physicians, 65 of whom said they would continue to hold their cellphones up to their ear, but 27 said they will use hands-free devices to minimize their risk.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Smoking Will Kill Six Million People This Year, WHO Says

AbleStock[dot]com/Hemera Technologies(GENEVA) -- Six million people will die from tobacco this year, including 600,000 non-smokers from secondhand smoke, according to the World Health Organization.

These latest figures, released Tuesday, are huge and projections show they're heading upward.  The WHO says smoking could kill eight million a year by 2030.

The organization attributes the increasing number of deaths to governments not doing enough to get people to stop the unhealthy habit and not protecting the public from secondhand smoke.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


World Marks 'No Tobacco Day'

AbleStock[dot]com/Hemera Technologies(NEW YORK) -- Americans along with others around the world are gearing up to acknowledge World No Tobacco Day on Tuesday.

The World health Organization (WHO) has chosen “The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” as the theme for the 2011 installment of World No Tobacco Day on Tuesday.

According to statistics provided by the WHO, tobacco kills almost six million people worldwide every year. Of that number, more than five million are either current or formers tobacco users, while over 600,000 are said to be individuals exposed to second-hand smoke.

The WHO says that tobacco could contribute to the cause of death for as much as one billion people in the 21st century.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Smallpox Stockpiles: To Keep, or to Destroy?

Paul Tearle/Thinkstock(GENEVA, Switzerland) -- Global health officials are discussing this week at the annual meeting of the World Health Organization whether or not to destroy the remaining cache of smallpox, or to hold on to it.  The samples have been kept both in Atlanta at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at a Russian Laboratory, according to the Wall Street Journal.

After several attempts in the late 1980s and early 1990s to destroy the remaining samples of the disease, eradicated more than 30 years ago, the saved virus has been a source of debate ever since.

Some countries argue for its destruction, saying the risk of an accidental release of one the world's deadliest diseases is not worth taking. But U.S. scientists contend that holding on to the remaining stockpiles allows more time to develop vaccines and antiviral drugs necessary in case of potential bioterrorism.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio