Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 17 June 2012





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The canker of alcoholism :

Why do we harm our bodies?

The sporting events taking place in Sri Lanka and around the world have shown how popular sporting celebrities are and how much money they make. It shows how much sports is glorified, but at the same time, it drives sports personalities to change when the name of the game is not playing the sport professionally, but what is done after earning all that money.

More than taking steroids to enhance sport performance, it is after winning a championships, when it comes to celebrating, that substance abuse in the form of alcohol takes over.

Many sporting celebrities think that they are invincible, because they have a lot of money and do whatever they wish. They think they are powerful and do not care about the harmful effects that substance abuse such as alcohol and smoking which can actually lower performance.

Against this backdrop, we have alcohol abuse within families, leading to domestic violence and all sorts of crime, which include drunk driving.

We don't realise that even though alcohol drinkers argue that they only drink to de-stress, alcohol abuse is on the rise with alcoholics taking to drinking to take their worries away. More than adults, it is the adolescents who are under a lot of pressure to take alcohol to fit in but also the most likeliest to fall into abusing the substance as they are not mature to understand the consequences.

Moreover, alcohol is the most common form of substance because it is available everywhere, can range from the cheapest beer to the most expensive wine. Even though there have been reported benefits of wine, anything that contains alcohol is always a silent killer in whatever form.

In Sri Lanka, the consumption of alcohol has increased drastically over the five-year period of 2006-2010. The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act, No. 27 of 2006 Section 35(1) states that, “A person shall not publish or cause to be published, or authorise the publication of, a tobacco advertisement or an alcohol advertisement.”

Under Section 35(4), “alcohol advertisement” means any distinctive writing, still or moving picture, sign, symbol or colours or other visual image or any audible message or any combination of the aforesaid that promotes or is intended to promote - the drinking of liquor, the purchase or use of an alcohol product or articles that include alcohol products, a brand name associated with an alcohol products, the name of the manufacturer of an alcohol products.”

No matter how much we stop advertisements on alcohol and drinking, it will always be a part of our culture and it's not easy to just shun it away. In the modern era, there is pressure to do well, make money but also life is such that, we are easily stressed by little things. So the only way we look to dealing with issues is by drinking to forget our problems.

According to the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre, expert Pamodinee Wijayanayake said that out of the 20 million population, 60 percent of males over 15 years of age consume alcohol. There is also an increasing number of female alcohol consumers especially among young women.

Studies have shown that the frequency of alcohol intoxication at the time of a crime committed, when people think they have been drinking (and most cases when they have been drinking) they let out more of their forbidden impulses.

Reports also indicate that alcohol itself doesn't seem to remove inhibitions. The most important conscious motives for intoxicant use is it's influencing mood and behaviour. Mild intoxication allows drinkers to be in a good mood, increasing their self confidence, removing inhibitions, making people more social, relieving anxiety and increasing sexual urges. Smokers and marijuana smokers also report the same effects as alcoholics.

However, the motives for use are not very different and similar effects are more often than not, attributed to other intoxicants.

Medical practitioners have traditionally said that intoxicants induce “euphoria”. The word means being in a good mood and a pleasant feeling. At first sight, this labelling seems convincing but research supporting this is lacking. Experts always are expected to give a reason on why people take harmful substances and the only explanation they can give is the “need for euphoria.”

The decisive importance of learning for the subjective experience of “getting high” and “disinherited” refutes some biological claims that have been put forward.

One example is research done on animals in the fifties which saw the existence of a centre of pleasure in the brain.

A Canadian psychologist formulated a theory that the intoxicant use as being motivated by the wish to stimulate this “centre of pleasure.”

During the seventies, researchers discovered that the so-called hormones, endorphins, are released which are morphine-like substances produced by the human body. Useful national alcohol policies are known but they are not widely accepted mostly because they are made a subject of controversy.

Those who buy alcoholic beverages pay a lot of tax so there are always debates on if they pay tax and drink, when they are admitted to hospital for substance-abuse related ailments and accidents, don't they deserve medical attention?

Increased retail price through taxation reduces alcohol consumption and resultant problems but that doesn't solve the alcohol crisis. Addiction to liquor and drugs has been identified as a serious health issue and a social menace today. It is seen as the major cause for the eroding human values in the modern society of Sri Lanka.

The per capita consumption of legally produced alcohol has risen from 1.81 litres to 7.37 litres, reflecting a four-fold increase. The number of people who patronise places where illicit brew is sold is also very large, although no statistics could be presented to prove it.

However, it is no secret that Sri Lanka is listed as one of the countries with the highest alcoholism levels.

A sample survey carried out by the Alcohol and Drugs Information Centre, in six districts in the southern part of Sri Lanka reveals that alcohol users are found mostly among middle aged men and appears to be around 65 percent. It is regrettable to note that the rate of increase of alcohol users is the highest among those in the threshold of youth.

Apparently, every other youngster in the prime age group of (15-24) years use alcohol, and the numbers have increased at an alarming rate of 37 percent over a short span of six years from 1998 to 2004.

The gravity of the social problem is significant in the mortality statistics as researched by the Registrar General’s Office, which clearly shows that deaths due to alcoholic liver diseases has more than doubled during the past decade.

In Sri Lanka, the National Authority on Tobacco, Alcohol and the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC). The ADIC is an organisation working in the field of drug demand reduction over the past 15 years. During this period, they have formulated and designed scientific based drug demand reduction strategies in Sri Lanka and other countries mostly in the SAARC Region. Successful efforts to create a lasting change in communities by changing behaviours has been recognised by the World Health Organisation in 1993 by awarding ADIC with the prestigious WHO award, “Tobacco or Health Medal”..

The ADIC's Library and the Information Program is a designated information resource provider in alcohol, tobacco and other drugs for academics and the general public.

However, no matter what we do, Sri Lanka remains the world's largest producer of coconut arrack and a few years, we had Colombo posting figures of high alcohol comsumption that was one of the highest in the world.

References courtesy NATA, ADIC and IPS

Newborns account for 40 p.c. of child deaths

Save the Children has released a pioneering report on newborn survival over the past decade that shows the world has greatly overlooked a key area for reducing child deaths - newborn care.

The world has achieved remarkable progress on reducing child deaths - from 12.4 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010 - but that progress isn't reaching newborn babies at the same pace, the report shows. As a result, newborns (infants in the first month of life) now account for more than 40 percent of child deaths.

However, the new report finds that globally only 0.1 percent of official development assistance for maternal and child health exclusively targets newborns, and only 6 percent mentions newborns at all - despite 3.1 million newborn babies dying each year.

“We must make sure to focus global efforts on when are kids are dying. Shockingly, this is right at the start of their lives when they are newborn babies,” said Carolyn Miles, President CEO of Save the Children. “This week's “Child Survival Call to Action” in Washington presents a tremendous opportunity for world leaders to finish what they started and end preventable child deaths.

They must make babies a core focus to achieve that.”

Miles added: “Save the Children applauds the U.S., Indian and Ethiopian governments for hosting this high-level forum and the Obama Administration for its commitment to continuing essential and effective U.S. leadership on child survival.”

The June 14-15 forum in Washington comes as Save the Children's major new report, “A Decade of Change for Newborn Survival,” is published in the medical journal, Health Policy and Planning. Sixty main authors and 90 contributors collaborated for three years on a first-of-its-kind analysis of newborn health around the world and what is needed to speed up progress on ending newborn deaths.

From 2000 to 2010 the number of newborn deaths dropped from 3.7 million to 3.1 million annually.

The report shows political will to reach the poorest families with the most effective interventions for newborn health has had dramatic results in low-income countries such as Bangladesh, Malawi and Nepal. All three are on track to meet the 2015 target of Millennium Development Goal 4 of reducing child deaths by two-thirds since 1990, and all have reduced newborn deaths at about double the rate of neighbouring countries. African families have the highest risk of newborn deaths and it would take 150 years at current rates of progress to achieve newborn death rates on par with the United States and Europe.

Other report findings include:

Maternal mortality is declining faster than before, but newborn mortality is declining at half that rate - showing that improved maternity services are not enough to combat threats to newborn survival. Declines in newborn mortality rates are also 30 percent slower than those of children under 5 who survive the newborn period.

From 2003 to 2008, official development assistance doubled for maternal, newborn and child health in the 68 countries with the most newborn deaths, but only 6 percent of this funding mentioned the word “newborn” and only 0.1 percent included specific newborn care interventions.

Family planning - i.e., increased access to voluntary contraception - has led to reductions in newborn deaths, which often relate to too-short-a-time between births or the youth of a mother. Prime examples are Nepal and Bangladesh, where the average number of babies per woman has been reduced by 50 percent.

Ten countries - including India and Ethiopia - account for two-thirds of neonatal deaths While economic growth is often linked to improved newborn survival, some of the world's poorest countries have achieved tremendous progress in both newborn and child survival.

These include Malawi in Africa and Nepal in South Asia, both on track to meet MDG4, and Sri Lanka, which, despite conflict there, provides a dramatic example of halving deaths due to preterm birth.

The new report includes comprehensive analyses of how Bangladesh, Nepal and Malawi are leaders in reducing newborn deaths, how Uganda has made strides in policy change for newborns, and how in Pakistan national partnerships and champions have kept newborn health on the agenda despite challenges including earthquakes and floods.

More than 75 percent of newborn deaths could be prevented in 2015 with universal coverage of high-impact interventions like Kangaroo Mother Care (wrapping newborns in skin-to-skin contact with their mothers for warmth and improved breastfeeding), antibiotics for babies with infections, exclusive breastfeeding, and other basic care.

The “Child Survival Call to Action” aims to build on progress achieved in pursuit of the 2015 Millennium Development Goal on reducing child deaths with a global roadmap to reach new goals - notably, reducing child deaths to fewer than 20 per 1,000 births in every country by 2035. Currently 53 children under age 5 die per 1,000 births globally, 40 percent of them newborns.


Genetic discovery will help fight diarrhoea outbreaks

Researchers have discovered unexpectedly large genetic differences between two similar species of the pathogenic Cryptosporidium parasite.

Published in the journal Evolutionary Applications, the findings pave the way for a new gold standard test to distinguish between the waterborne parasite's two main species affecting humans.

One species is spread from person to person (Cryptosporidium hominis) but the other is often spread from livestock to people (Cryptosporidium parvum).

“Being able to discriminate quickly between the two species means it is easier to spot an outbreak as it develops, trace the original source, and take appropriate urgent action to prevent further spread,” said lead author Dr Kevin Tyler of Norwich Medical School at UEA.

Cryptosporidium is a protozoan parasite that causes outbreaks of diarrhoea across the globe. In the UK, around two per cent of cases of diarrhoea are caused by the organism and many people will be infected at some time in their lives. Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting and can last for up to a month, but healthy people usually make a full recovery.

However, in the developing world infection can be serious in malnourished children and a significant cause of death in areas with high prevalence of untreated AIDS.

In the UK, outbreaks have been caused by faulty filtration systems in water supplies and transmission through swimming pools because the parasite is not killed by chlorine disinfection.

Outbreaks also occur at open farms and in nurseries. People can also be infected by eating vegetables that have been washed in contaminated water.

Hygiene is important in the prevention of spread of Cryptosporidium: people are advised to always wash their hands with warm running water and soap after touching animals, going to the toilet, changing nappies and before preparing, handling or eating food.

In this EU-funded study, the researchers identified the first parasite proteins that are specific to the different species.

They found them at the ends of the chromosomes where they had been missed during previous parasite genetic studies. Dr. Tyler said: “Our discovery is an important advance in developing new simple and reliable tests for identifying these two species of parasite.

This is the first step in discriminating outbreaks from sporadic cases, local strains from exotic ones, and tracing the source of outbreaks to an individual water supply, swimming pool or farm.”

The UEA team worked with colleagues at the UK Cryptosporidium Reference Unit in Swansea, and Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, part of Queen Mary, University of London. Recently obtained renewed funding from the EU will enable further development towards a diagnostic test for use in the water industry and public health.


Intensive mobile phone, computer use may affect young people's health

Young adults who make particularly heavy use of mobile phones and computers run a greater risk of sleep disturbances, stress and symptoms of mental health.

“Public health advice should therefore include information on the healthy use of this technology,” says researcher Sara Thomee from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Doctoral researchers have conducted four different studies looking at how the use of computers and mobile phones affects the mental health of young adults.

Stress and sleep disorders

These studies, which included questionnaires for 4,100 people aged 20-24 and interviews with 32 young heavy ICT users, reveal that intensive use of mobile phones and computers can be linked to stress, sleep disorders and depressive symptoms.

“We looked at the effects both quantitatively and qualitatively and followed up the volunteers a year on,” explains Thomée, who will present the results in her upcoming thesis. “The conclusion is that intensive use of ICT can have an impact on mental health among young adults.”

The studies reveal, for example, that heavy mobile use is linked to an increase in sleeping problems in men and an increase in depressive symptoms in both men and women.

Those who find the constant accessibility via mobile phones to be stressful are most likely to report mental symptoms,” says Thomée.

Late-night computer use

Frequently using a computer without breaks also increases the risk of stress, sleeping problems and depressive symptoms in women, whereas men who use computers intensively are more likely to develop sleeping problems.

“Regularly using a computer late at night is associated not only with sleep disorders but also with stress and depressive symptoms in both men and women,” says Thomée.

Need for health advice

A combination of both heavy computer use and heavy mobile use makes the association even stronger. One conclusion is that public health advice to young people should include information on how to use ICT in a healthy way:

This means taking breaks, taking time to recover after intensive use, and putting limits on your availability,” Sara Thomée said.




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