Checkup Medical Column for March 3

A weekly round-up of news affecting your health.

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MORE AUSTRALIANS GIVING THE GIFT OF LIFE

For Australians awaiting an organ transplant, a promising milestone has been achieved.

As of January this year, a 12-month rate of 510 donors has provided 1451 transplant recipients with a second chance at life.

The 12-month rate in 2015 was 367.

ShareLife Australia says donation and transplantation rates have steadily increased since the federal government announced in 2015 a national inquiry into the management of the 2008 National Reform Plan.

Professor Allan Glanville, Director Thoracic Medicine and Medical Director Lung transplantation at Sydney’s St Vincent Hospital, says this “significant” increase in donation rates is evidence of what can be achieved when key stakeholders work together.

“The combined efforts by the Australian Government, including the OTA (Organ Tissue Authority) and state-based organ donation organisations, informed hospital administrators and dedicated doctors and nurses, highlights the importance of well-managed in-hospital organ donation programs,” said Prof Glanville.

DERMATITIS AND ACNE TOP LIST OF DISABLING SKIN DISEASES

Dermatitis and acne cause the greatest disease burden of all forms of skin disease globally, according to international research including Australians.

The study published in journal JAMA Dermatology found that skin diseases are the fourth largest cause of disability worldwide.

Researchers analysed more than 4000 sources of data on 15 skin conditions in 188 countries from 1980 through to 2013 to determine the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – years lived with a disability and years of life lost – for each of the conditions.

Dermatitis topped the list with 9.3 million disability-adjusted life years globally, while acne causes 7.2 million DALYs.

BABY SLEEP DAY

Greater awareness is needed about how the whole family can be impacted by a baby’s lack of sleep, say experts.

The Pediatric Sleep Council (PSC), a team of international pediatric sleep experts, celebrated the first annual Baby Sleep Day on March 1 to draw attention and recognition to the importance of baby sleep.

Sleep is not only vital for the baby’s development but is also important for the health of the whole family, says Professor Harriet Hiscock, Research Fellow at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI) and paediatrician at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

Prof Hiscock says a baby’s lack of sleep also impacts on the family dynamic.

“It affects their relationship with their child, but also the relationship with their partner. The child’s sleep problem is often a source of tension because everyone is exhausted and cranky,” said Prof Hiscock.

“It’s a health issue for parents.”

US doctor Erin Leichman, Executive Director of the PSC, says raising awareness is an important step in giving families the answers, support, and information they seek.

PROJECT ‘WILL’ MAKE RADIATION THERAPY SAFER AND MORE EFFECTIVE

Australian researchers have received a funding boost to develop a world-first radiotherapy system that will ensure a “safer” delivery of the life-saving treatment to hard-to-treat cancers.

Radiation therapy is used to treat 40 per cent of cancer patients in Australia.

One of the difficulties with current treatment techniques, which map out the cancer ahead of the radiotherapy, is that hard to visualise tumours move during treatment, for example when the patient breathes.

Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI)-guided radiotherapy currently allows the cancer and surrounding organs to be viewed in real time as it is being treated. But at present it is impossible to check the radiation dose in the same way.

Professor Peter Metcalfe from the Centre for Medical Radiation Physics centre at the University of Wollongong aims to solve this problem by perfecting a novel radiation dosage measurement system that operates with MRI-linear accelerators.

On Wednesday his project was awarded a nearly $500,000 Cancer Council NSW project grant.

Prof Metcalfe says the three-year study will result in safer, more accurate and more effective treatment for patients.

“It’s mainly for the cancers that are difficult to visualise and treat – lung, breast, oesophagus, pancreas, kidney, rectal tissue, liver, cervix, prostate and lymph nodes – all the tricky ones,” Professor Metcalfe said.

“These cancers are difficult to target using current technology because they are near healthy organs that need to be avoided. The main thing with radiotherapy is avoiding other surrounding organs. So if you can reduce the size of the radiation field and hit the target more exactly you can spare the healthy organs.”

Motor racing-Mercedes wrap up first test with Hamilton absent

If there were some cynics in the press room for the triple champion’s no-show, it was only because he had joked the previous evening that he might “fake a pulled muscle” to get out of the wet tyre test on an artificially-soaked track.

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Trucks had sprayed water around the Circuit de Catalunya since the early hours.

“Electrical fault kept us in the garage this morning, so I’ve decided with the team not to drive today as I wouldn’t have learned much,” the Briton said on Twitter.

“Shame not to drive but it’s been a great few days. The guys have done an awesome job. Can’t wait to be back in the car next week,” he added.

Hamilton had made clear on Wednesday night that he was not a big fan of the wet weather tyres.

“I hear it’s wet tomorrow, so not particularly looking forward to that,” he had told reporters. “I drove some demonstration wet tyres at Silverstone (last week) and they didn’t feel great. And I’m out first, unfortunately.

“I might fake a pulled muscle in the morning and let Valtteri do it.”

Mercedes had shown impressive reliability up to Thursday, completing far more laps than any other team with barely a hitch.

The two drivers have been sharing the load, with one driving in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

Bottas, who has moved from Williams to replace retired world champion Nico Rosberg, would have been due to start in the afternoon but completed nine laps before the lunch break.

He ended up with 68 to his credit, more than a race distance.

The Finn’s fastest lap on Wednesday would have secured pole for any race at the Spanish circuit since it was reconfigured in 2007, and Mercedes have again looked the team to beat with Ferrari closest.

Ferrari’s 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen ended Thursday with the fastest time and 92 laps covered. France’s Romain Grosjean in the Haas did most laps of all, with 118.

Williams did not take part in the final day after Canadian rookie Lance Stroll’s crash on Wednesday that damaged the car. Testing resumes next Tuesday at the Spanish circuit.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Investigators search French presidential candidate Fillon’s house

Investigators have searched the house of French presidential candidate Francois Fillon as part of an investigation into payments made to his wife, Le Parisien newspaper reported, citing unidentified sources.

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The financial prosecutor’s office declined comment.

The news on Thursday came as further cracks appeared in Fillon’s campaign, a day after news that he faces a formal investigation for allegations he misused public funds.

A flash opinion poll by Harris Interactive on Thursday showed that only 25 per cent of people now want him to continue as a candidate, down from 35 per cent a month ago, while within his party there were more resignations after his decision on Wednesday to stay in the race.

WATCH: Fillon refuses to quit France presidential race

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While Fillon campaigned in southern France on Thursday ahead of a rally in the city of Nimes, poll favourite Emmanuel Macron announced his full centrist manifesto and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen was due to give a presentation on the role of the French state in the economy.

With less than two months to go to the April 23 first round vote, polls point to a second-round showdown on May 7 between Macron and Le Pen that Macron would win.

One of the first opinion polls partly taken after Fillon’s legal woes deepened on Wednesday showed his support dipping below 20 per cent for the first time in a week.

Fillon already suffered a blow on Wednesday when adviser Bruno Le Maire quit his campaign in protest against his decision to fight on.

On Thursday, deputy campaign director Sebastien Lecornu and adviser Vincent Le Roux followed Le Maire’s lead, along with a number of more junior campaign staff.

Sources said there was a strong push by some in the party to have former prime minister Alain Juppe run, but the plan was vetoed by Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president.

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Labor wary of disclosing vets’ information

Federal Labor is having a rethink about legislation that would allow the government to release the personal information of veterans so that it can correct public statements.

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The move comes a day after the opposition referred Human Services Minister Alan Tudge to federal police to determine whether providing a journalist with a welfare recipient’s personal information was legal.

“What’s come to light over recent days seems to be that the government can’t be trusted with personal information,” opposition veterans affairs spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth told ABC radio on Friday.

The bill, which cleared parliament’s lower house this week with the support of Labor, gives the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs the power to disclose otherwise protected information about an individual provided a public interest certificate is obtained.

While the individual can object to release of any information, the department could still do so without their approval.

Ms Rishworth said Labor had supported the bill on the provision that strict safeguards were in place to protect public data.

“I think I have to go back to the minister and have a conversation with him because there is now a concern … (it) will wilfully, in their political interest, release individuals’ information,” she said.

Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan insists the bill has undergone a privacy impact assessment and extensive consultation.

Centrelink bosses, appearing before a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday, were grilled about sharing private client information with the media.

Human Services head Kathryn Campbell said the agency could release information to “correct the record” in a bid to maintain integrity and confidence in the system, and had done so for many years.

Centrelink bosses agreed an individual’s personal information handed to a journalist last week was protected information, saying it was run by the minister’s office first and provided under lawful exemptions.

The same exemption had been used many times.

Releasing the information was “essential” for retaining public confidence in the welfare system.

“The only information which we are able to release is information which is specifically to correct the record,” Human Services staffer Jonathon Hutson told senators.

“Information concerning an individual which has not been made otherwise public is not released and has not been released in this circumstance.”

Ms Campbell said the person involved made a number of unfounded claims which could have a knock-on effect.

“It was in the opinion of officers that this was likely to concern other individuals, that they may see this and think that they too had erred and not met their commitments.”

Greens senator Rachel Siewert said she was concerned the section of the veterans affairs bill could impact on the Senate inquiry hearings into suicide by veterans and ex-service personnel.

Many people had already given evidence privately and publicly as part of the inquiry, and the threat of the department revealing information could have a “chilling effect” on more people coming forward.

“It sent shivers up my spine that the government is now trying to do the same thing that it is doing to people on income support to veterans,” she told reporters in Canberra on Friday.

“I would be strongly advocating for us to be not supporting those amendments.”

UK inquiry told of ‘Creeping Jesus’ abuse

A Presbyterian supervisor at a Victorian farm school was known as “Creeping Jesus” because of the way he crept up on boys at night to sexually abuse them in the 1950s, a British inquiry has heard.

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A former child migrant gave evidence to the child sex abuse inquiry sitting in London on Thursday, detailing the abuse he suffered after being shipped from the UK where he had been in foster care.

Michael Hawes, now aged 70 and living in Queensland, arrived in Australia in 1954 at the age of seven and was sent to the Presbyterian church’s farm school at Dhurringile in Victoria.

He said he was constantly bullied by the older boys, was once tied up in barbed wire and pelted with rocks and one boy nearly succeeded in cutting off his finger with a pocket knife.

Holding back tears, Mr Hawes said he was abused by two staff members at the school including one the boys dubbed “Creeping Jesus”.

“You wouldn’t hear him come, he’d go up the stairs and he’d pick a boy up and take him downstairs to a locked room,” he said.

Mr Hawes said he was forced to masturbate him but he refused to perform oral sex, telling the man he would bite.

He said such abuse went on at least once a week for up to four years, with boys thrashed if they didn’t cooperate.

Mr Hawes said another man at the school would grope him down his shorts and strip off in front of boys to show his erection.

At age 12 he was reunited with his parents when they moved to Australia but he said they were like strangers to him by then and he later left home to drift from job to job.

He said the abuse had left him lacking self esteem and he still found it hard to trust people.

The Australian government issued an apology in 2009 for the cruelty shown to child migrants and the UK government apologised in 2010 for its part in the child migration program.

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25).

Service activity implies weak jobs growth

Australia’s service sector activity was nearly flat last month implying jobs growth will remain weak for the near term.

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The Australian Industry Group’s Performance of Services Index (PSI) slumped 5.5 points to a level of 49 points in February, falling below the 50-point level signifying expansion.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said services sector held its ground in February after a three-month period of gradually rising growth.

“Sales and employment in the sector slipped below their January levels while new orders for services were broadly unchanged,” he said in a statement.

Mr Willox said there was a clear mix of results across the diverse sector last month, with different subsectors in expansion or contraction.

“With services such an important employer, more robust growth across the sector is central if there is to be a pick-up from the still weak levels of jobs growth across the broader economy,” he said.

Ai Group said supplier deliveries was the only one of the five activity sub-indexes to expand in February, at 53.7 points in the month.

Sales, new orders, inventories and employment were either flat or in contraction in the month.

Six of the nine services sub-sectors expanded in the month, led by wholesale trade, and finance and insurance.

The hospitality sub-sector, which has been either flat or contracting for 15 months, fell a further 2.1 points to 41.8 points.

Communications services and transport and storage services also contracted in February.

Input prices continued to rise and wage growth also improved, albeit at a slower pace, while selling prices fell from a flat level into contraction.

Heart killed Kim Jong Nam: North Korea

A North Korean envoy has rejected a Malaysian autopsy finding that VX nerve agent killed Kim Jong Nam, saying the man probably died of a heart attack because he suffered from heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

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Malaysia dismissed the claim on Thursday.

The death of Kim, the estranged half brother of North Korea’s ruler, has unleashed a diplomatic battle between Malaysia and North Korea.

The autopsy is especially sensitive because North Korea had asked Malaysia not to perform one.

Also Thursday, amid growing fallout from the killing, Malaysia announced it is scrapping visa-free entry for North Koreans.

Malaysian officials say two women smeared VX nerve agent – a banned chemical weapon – on Kim’s face as he waited at Kuala Lumpur’s airport on February 13. Kim died within 20 minutes, authorities say.

The women, who were caught on grainy surveillance video, have been charged with murder. Both say they were duped into thinking they were playing a harmless prank.

Malaysia’s autopsy finding that VX nerve agent killed Kim boosted speculation that North Korea orchestrated the attack.

On Thursday, Ri Tong Il, the former North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Nations, told a news conference that it made no sense to say the two women used such a deadly toxin without also killing or sickening themselves and people around them.

Ri said Kim had a history of heart problems and had been hospitalised in the past. He said he understood that Malaysian officials found medication for diabetes, heart problems and high blood pressure in Kim’s belongings.

North Korea does not acknowledge that it was Kim Jong Nam who died. Instead, it refers to the victim as Kim Chol, the name on the diplomatic passport he was carrying. Malaysia has confirmed that the victim was Kim Jong Nam.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar brushed off Ri’s claim of a heart attack.

Labor refers Tudge to AFP over Centrelink privacy scandal

The federal opposition has called on the Australian Federal Police to investigate Human Services Minister Alan Tudge after his department released the private welfare details of a Centrelink customer.

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Labor MP Linda Burney announced on Thursday she had referred the matter to the AFP, saying it was not something she did lightly.

In a letter to the AFP, Ms Burney said it appeared the “staff in the officer of the Minister for Human Services, or the minister himself, have released without authorisation to journalists private personal information of certain people who are recipients of social security”.

The welfare details of blogger Andie Fox were released to a Fairfax journalist last month after she wrote a blog slamming Centrelink for chasing her for a debt she did not owe.

Mr Tudge has claimed the department was within its rights to release the information to “correct factual inaccuracies” in Ms Fox’s piece.

However, Ms Burney described Mr Tudge’s decision as reckless, immoral and possibly illegal.

“The private information of an individual who went to a government instrumentality appears to have been provided to a media outlet without her permission,” she told reporters.

Watch Linda Burney speak about the referral to police:

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“If this is the case, then how can we can we trust this Government to look after anyone’s private information?”

In a statement, Mr Tudge said the government took privacy “very seriously”.

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“The government takes privacy very seriously and complies with all the requirements of the relevant legislation to ensure that Australians’ information is treated, and safeguarded, appropriately,” he said.

“However, where a person makes a false public statement about their dealing with the Department of Human Services, whether through the media or otherwise, social security law and family assistance law enables to the department to disclose customer information to the extent that it is necessary to correct factual inaccuracies or potentially misleading information.”

Mr Tudge said in the statement the information provided to Fairfax Media was provided “with the approval of the chief legal counsel of the Department of Human Services”.

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Penalty rates: New poll suggests 65 per cent of Australians want protection laws

The coalition is hitting out at a Labor campaign over penalty rates as new polling shows voters in some of the country’s most marginal seats want the government to protect them.

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The political fallout from the Fair Work Commission’s decision to reduce Sunday rates to those of Saturday in the hospitality, retail and fast food sectors has dominated the parliamentary week.

ReachTEL polling, conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, shows more than 62 per cent of Australians disapprove of the decision and 65 per cent want the government to pass legislation to protect penalty rates.

The survey of more than 3500 residents included the electorates of Corangamite, Dawson, Page, and Leichhardt.

“These poll results show politicians must act on behalf of the majority of voters and put new laws in place to protect take home pay of the lowest paid workers,” ACTU president Ged Kearney said on Friday.

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The government has been trying to paint the decision as pro-jobs, insisting businesses will hire more workers once their wages bills decrease.

Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne rejected criticism of the government’s response and accused Labor of using the issue to distract from issues like high electricity prices.

He insisted the commission recommends the change to Sunday rates be phased in over two years.

“As the minimum wage rises for those workers, that would cover any losses they might have because of the changes to penalty rates,” he told the Nine Network.

Labor isn’t giving up its fight to protect worker’s take-home pay, despite Bill Shorten unsuccessfully seeking to bring in and pass a bill to protect penalty rates on Thursday.

“This is about a pay cut for some of Australia’s lowest income earners,” frontbencher Anthony Albanese said.

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Former prime minister Tony Abbott offered his government some advice on how to respond to the opposition’s attacks.

“Against Labor’s pitch of ‘high wages’ versus ‘low wages’, we need to pitch ‘high wages’ versus ‘no wages’,” he told The Australian.

“The issue is not higher wages versus lower wages. It’s about making it possible for more businesses to stay open because if the business is shut no one gets paid anything.”

Liberal senator and former workplace minister Eric Abetz believes the pay rates of existing workers should be protected while the new rates apply only to new employees.

The opposition claims up to 700,000 will be affected by the decision, but the government says it is as few as 285,000.

The Fair Work Commission says it does not know how many people will be affected.

Women, culturally diverse workers shut out of nation’s top jobs

New research has found it’s not just women who are disadvantaged when it comes to pay and promotions – people of different cultural backgrounds are struggling as well.

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The Diversity Council of Australia has found the top tiers of ASX companies are lacking when it comes to diversity.

For example, in 2015, 64 per cent of ASX company directors were Anglo-Celtic men compared to 5.7 per cent of Anglo-Celtic women.

Men from a background other than Anglo-Celtic made up 27.8 per cent, compared just 2.5 per cent of women from other ethnic groups.

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Ming Long is one of those who has often found herself in the minority in boardroom meetings.

The Malaysian born non-executive director told SBS News she was often the only non-Anglo woman in the room.

“You notice many times that you’re the only female there, and then you also notice that you’re the most culturally diverse person there – of a different ethnic background too, so you are really the odd one out,” she said.

Diversity Council of Australia chief executive Lisa Annese said institutional bias made it difficult for women, and especially culturally diverse women, to succeed.

“There’s a hierarchy and a structure in place that has a preference for a particular type of individual, and that usually doesn’t include many women,” she said.

“For women of culturally diverse backgrounds – where women have a bind of being not only female, but also culturally diverse – these two factors combine together to create a double-disadvantage.”

The disadvantage doesn’t end there. The Diversity Council research coincides with annual equity data from Bankwest showing a $93,000 dollar pay gap exists between men and women in top tier management.

Ms Long said companies needed to introduce targets to tackle unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion.

“It’s that bias that comes in – you want to recruit someone that looks like you, sounds like you, have had all the same experiences as you,” she said.

“But what I know is that, as a leader, if you keep on finding people just like you, what happens over time is you become blind to other opportunities and I think bias does make you blind to judgments that you are making that isn’t really legitimate or based on merit.”

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