New Grants Support Exchange of Local and State Health Information
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has awarded 21 grants of up to $100,000 to state and local health departments and public health agencies to support health information exchange. Part of the foundation's InformationLinks program, the grants are to be used for 12-month projects in which recipients will work with health care providers to improve the use of health information exchanges or data sharing networks. Sharing information between public health departments, hospitals and clinics, and community health organizations can help to protect the public from threats such as an influenza pandemic or bioterrorism in addition to tracking chronic diseases, according to senior program officer Stephen Downs.
InformationLinks aims to speed state and local public health agencies' effective use of information technology to improve public health. Information systems, said Downs, have a vital role in community health improvement: they facilitate communication between individual health care providers and state health departments, help to locate disease outbreaks, and aid in tracking chronic disease. The increased accuracy and accessibility of data afforded by health information technology also may effect improvements in data reporting; emergency preparation and response; and monitoring of community health issues such as cancers, heart disease, smoking, and influenza. Other InformationLinks projects include the development of a model health exchange network, identification of barriers to and solutions for sharing newborn screening results, initiation of a public-private partnership in a metropolitan area, and development of shared disease-control protocols. For more information about InformationLinks and for a list of grant recipients, visit http://www.rwjf.org.
Research Training Grants Awarded to Help Fight AIDS and Tuberculosis
The Fogarty International Center (FIC), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is funding institutions in Brazil and Zimbabwe to establish research training programs that will improve their ability to fight acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and tuberculosis (TB). The awards are a part of the FIC's International Clinical, Operational, and Health Services Research Training Award Program for AIDS and Tuberculosis (ICOHRTA-AIDS/TB). The program provides opportunities for health care professionals to work on AIDS- and TB-related research relevant to the needs of their countries. Awards also were given to partner institutions in the United States. The funding allows for development of a research training program at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, to establish a pool of researchers to work on controlling TB and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) within Brazil. A similar research training program will be established at the Biomedical Research and Training Institute in Harare, Zimbabwe, enabling African scientists to conduct research on HIV, TB, and other locally endemic infections. The ICOHRTA-AIDS/TB program awarded grants to sites in China, Haiti, Russia, and Uganda in 2004. For more information about the program, visit http://www.fic.nih.gov/programs/ICOHRTA-AIDS-TB/ICOHRTA-AIDS-TB.html.
FDA Warns Companies Marketing Fraudulent Therapies for Avian Flu
Nine companies claiming that their products are effective against avian influenza (flu) have received warning letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA states that it is not aware of any scientific evidence demonstrating the safety or effectiveness of these products for treating or preventing avian flu. Conversely, the FDA is concerned that use of these products may harm users or interfere with conventional treatments and may increase the risk of consumers catching and spreading the flu by giving them a false sense of protection. Eight of the products are dietary supplements promoted as “natural” alternatives to approved treatments. For more information, see the FDA Web site at http://www.fda.gov. Consumers who think they may have seen a fraudulent product can contact the FDA online at http://www.fda.gov/oc/buyonline/buyonlineform.htm.
NIH Provides $18 Million for Biomedical Technology Research Centers
The National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a component of the NIH, will award $18.2 million for the creation of two biomedical technology resource centers. Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, mass., will receive $15 million over five years to create a national Image Guided Therapy Center that will develop new intervention technologies. Indiana University, Bloomington, will receive $3.2 million over three years to launch the National Center for Glycomics and Glycoproteomics. The center will further the study of carbohydrate molecules that may result in new treatments for multiple diseases including alcoholism and cancer, and will conduct educational seminars and graduate training on developments in instrumentation and techniques. For more information visit http://www.ncrr.nih.gov.
Senate Passes Bill Allowing Use of Umbilical Cord Stem Cells
The U.S. Senate voted in December to pass the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act (H.R. 2520), allowing stem cells from umbilical cords to be used for treatment and research. Patients with diseases such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia already have been treated successfully with cord blood stem calls. According to the bill's authors, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), the legislation will increase the cord blood unit inventory and streamline the process for the receipt of blood matches. Under the legislation, stated Smith, a new nationwide stem cell transplantation system and the reauthorized national bone marrow transplant system will be combined in a new program to collect and analyze outcomes data. The full bill, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in may 2005, can be accessed online at http://thomas.loc.gov.
AAFP Fights for Rights of Family Physicians to Perform Endoscopies
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) is countering a perceived threat to the rights of family physicians to perform endoscopies. A letter and legal opinion sent by the American College of Gastroenterologists (ACG) to all hospital administrators in July 2005 warned that they could be held liable for negligent credentialing if they allowed physicians who were not Board certified in gastroenterology to obtain privileges in endoscopy. After one hospital blocked a family physician from performing colonoscopies, the AAFP developed its own letter and legal opinion, which were sent to all hospital administrators and Family medicine departments in December. The AAFP determines that, under current law, the proper criteria for granting privileges are the requesting physician's demonstrated experience, training, and competence in the performance of the procedures for which privileges are being sought. more information is available on the AAFP Web site at https://www.aafp.org/x40682.xml.
America's Health Rankings Report Shows Slowing Improvement Rate
The 16th annual America's Health Rankings report, released in December by the United Health Foundation (UHF) and the American Public Health Association, shows a slowing rate of improvement in the health of the U.S. population. The report analyzes the relative health of Americans compared with people of other nations and makes suggestions for citizens to improve the health of their communities. Whereas U.S. health measures improved 1.5 percent each year during the 1990s, the report states, from 2000 the annual improvement rate fell to 0.3 percent. The report attributes the decline to various personal behaviors, community environment, and public policy issues, including the declining high school graduation rate, the rising rate of obesity, and the higher percentage of people lacking health insurance. more information is available on the UHF Web site, http://www.unitedhealthfoundation.org.