SCIENCE IN THE NEWS #2079 - Digest

By StaffThis is Bob Doughty.And this is Warren Scheer with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in Science. Today, we tell about a study of health care systems around the world. We tell about why heart attack patients may need to stay in a hospital for only a short time. We tell about a chemical to kill insects that has been banned. And we tell about a link between pollution and rain.

The World Health Organization has released the results of a study of health care systems in one-hundred-ninety-one nations. It is the first time the WHO has studied the performance of health care systems in its member countries. The study found that how much money a country spends on health care appears to have little effect on the kind of care people receive.

WHO officials used five measures to compare the performance of health care systems. They are the general level of the health of the population. Differences in health among the population. The way a health system reacts to the needs of the population. How people with different economic situations are served by the system. And, who pays the costs of health care.The WHO study found that France provides the best health care in the world. Italy has the second best health care system. Other major countries that provide the best health care are Spain, Oman, Austria and Japan. In general, health care systems in richer countries are better than those in poorer ones.

However, the WHO report says money alone is not enough to guarantee good health care. For example, the report notes that the United States spends more money on health care than any other nation. It spends an average of about four-thousand dollars each year on health care for every American citizen. Yet the United States was thirty-seventh on the list of the best health care systems.WHO official David Evans says the health care system in the United States reacted well to the needs of the American population. In general, life expectancy rates also were high. However, Mr. Evans says the United States did not do well in the area of financial fairness. He says many poor people in the United States do not have health insurance to help pay for medical costs. And rich people generally get better health care than poor people.

The new WHO report names countries that have the least fair financing of health systems. They include Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, China, Russia and Sierra Leone.

The report urges countries to expand health care to as much of the population as possible. WHO officials say this can be done with private insurance agreements, taxes or government programs.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))A new study has suggested that people recovering from a heart attack can be safety treated in a hospital for a shorter length of time. American research scientists found that most heart attack patients can be safely released from a hospital after only three days. The researchers say this would shorten the length of hospital stays by two or more days and reduce the cost of treatment.

Kristin Newby of the Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina led the group that organized the study. She and her team examined medical records of more than twenty-two-thousand people who suffered a heart attack.

The researchers say each patient had a normal recovery during three days in the hospital after the heart attack. They did not suffer serious health problems, such as a second heart attack.Only sixteen of the twenty-two-thousand patients suffered serious heart problems during the fourth day in the hospital. Thirteen received emergency treatment and survived for at least twenty-four hours. Three others died. The researchers say the fourth day in the hospital produced only two more days in life expectancy for an average patient.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The journal also published a commentary on the findings. Two doctors warned health care providers against using the study to limit hospital treatment for heart attack patients to three days. They said some patients might not be emotionally ready to leave the hospital after three days.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))You are listening to the Special English program SCIENCE IN THE NEWS on VOA. This is Warren Scheer with Bob Doughty in Washington.


American officials have announced that production of a chemical commonly used to kill insects will be stopped. Studies have shown the substance could be harmful, especially to children.

The chemical, chlorpyrifos, (klor-PYE-ruh-fahs) has been widely used for more than thirty years. It is used in agriculture. And it is used in hundreds of products to kill insects in homes and gardens. About three-thousand six-hundred studies and reports have examined the health effects of chlorpyrifos -- also known by the name Dursban.

Carol Browner is the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. She noted that chlorpyrifos is part of a group of older pesticide products known to have health risks. Mizz Browner said people who live or work near areas treated with the chemical may develop disorders of the nervous system.Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement with six companies that make chlorpyrifos. Under the agreement, production of the chemical for use in homes, schools, hospitals, stores, parks and children's play areas will be halted by the end of this year. The agreement also cancels or sharply limits the amount of chlorpyrifos permitted on some foods eaten by children, such as tomatoes, apples and grapes.

Chlorpyrifos used in buildings to kill insects called termites will be banned by the end of next year. At that time, sales of chlorpyrifos products in the United States will be barred.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))An Israeli study has shown that air pollution from cities and industry can reduce rain and snowfall. It says the problem appears to be linked to the number of pollution particles in clouds. Daniel Rosenfeld of Hebrew University in Jerusalem organized the study. His findings were reported in the publication Science.

Mr. Rosenfeld observed air pollution over Australia, Canada and Turkey from cities and factories. He used images provided by a satellite orbiting Earth. The satellite has instruments that can measure clouds and rainfall.

Raindrops form in clouds with little or no pollution when water in the air collects around dust particles. The study notes that about one-million small droplets are required to form a drop of water large enough to fall to earth.Mr. Rosenfeld observed the movement of the air pollution as it floated away from cities, power production centers and oil treatment centers. He found that heavily polluted clouds do not produce as much rain as cleaner clouds. He says this is because polluted clouds are made of only very small water droplets.

Mr. Rosenfeld says polluted clouds have too many dust particles. The large number of particles results in the formation of too many water droplets that are too small.

They are not big enough to form raindrops. The smaller droplets also are slower to freeze and do not easily form ice particles for snow.Last year, Mr. Rosenfeld found that burning trees and other plants also reduces rainfall amounts. This can be a problem in areas where forests are cleared for development.

Science magazine published a commentary on the findings. Owen Toon of the University of Colorado at Boulder said the study is the first direct evidence that pollution from cities and factories affects rain. He says more studies are needed to show if the effect found over Australia, Canada and Turkey is found in other areas.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written George Grow. This is Bob Doughty.And this is Warren Scheer. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

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