Pregnant Mothers and Depression / Anti-depression Drugs to Carry Stronger Warning / Kyoto Protocol To Become Law

Welcome to Science in the News in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Sarah Long. This week: a plan for limiting climate change moves one step closer to enactment as an international treaty and American officials agree to increase warnings on antidepressant drugs.

But first, how deep sadness in a pregnant woman or new mothers could affect her baby.

A new study examines how depression in pregnant women can influence the health of their babies. Earlier studies showed that ten to fifteen percent of pregnant women and new mothers in Western nations suffer from depression. Other studies have shown that almost two times as many women in developing countries have this problem.

Atif Rahman of the University of Manchester in England led the new study. His team linked depression in Pakistani women to lower weight in their babies during the first year of life. It also linked depressed mothers with the emotional health and development in their babies.

Doctor Rahman's team studied six hundred thirty-two women from areas with small populations near the city of Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The women were in good physical health and in the last three months of pregnancy.

One hundred sixty of the women were identified as depressed. They had lost interest and pleasure in normal life. They always felt sad or tired. They had problems eating or sleeping. They felt guilty and thought about killing themselves.

The depressed women were compared with one hundred sixty women with normal emotional health. Health workers then weighed and measured the babies of both groups of mothers. They did this when the babies were born. They also examined the babies at ages two, six and twelve months.

At these times, the health workers studied the emotional health of the mothers. Babies whose mothers remained depressed grew considerably less than the babies of the other women. In addition, the babies of the depressed mothers were more likely to suffer from the intestinal problem, diarrhea.

Doctor Rahman says the environment in poor countries may make it difficult to care for a baby. For example, water must be boiled. Supplies must be cleaned before use. A depressed mother may find it harder to do these things.

Doctor Rahman plans an effort to help depressed mothers in Pakistan next year. For ten years, that country has employed health workers called "lady health workers." They visit new mothers and babies for up to a year. The workers offer advice about health and cleanliness.

Doctor Rahman plans to add to this program. He wants the lady health worker to provide special help to the mother. The worker will listen sympathetically to her problems. The worker also will give the mother a few easy things to do. Then, on the next visit, she may be able to tell the mother that she has helped her baby's growth. The program will be tested over several years to learn if it is a success.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has ordered drug makers to place strong warnings on all antidepressant drugs. The announcement comes a month after an advisory committee agreed that recent studies showed a need for the strengthened warnings.

F.D.A. officials say the studies found that some children and young adults who use the drugs have an increased risk of suicidality. The officials describe suicidality as thoughts or actions involving taking one's life.

The increased risk of suicidality was identified in short-term testing of nine antidepressant drugs. More than four thousand four-hundred young people took part in a total of twenty-four studies. They suffered from major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or other mental health problems.

The results showed an increased risk of suicidality during the first few months of treatment. Those taking antidepressant drugs had a four percent risk of suicidality. That is two times greater than those taking a harmless substance, or placebo. No suicides were reported during the studies.

The new warnings will appear on containers for all antidepressant drugs. They will be written in heavy black letters, surrounded with a black line.

These "black box" warnings will inform patients that antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in children and young adults. It will advise health care providers that patients should be watched closely for any unusual changes, such as worsening of depression, excitability or suicidality.

Family members and caregivers are advised to watch for these changes every day. These changes should be reported to the patient's doctor.

The Food and Drug Administration also says it plans to develop a medication guide for patients. F.D.A. officials say patients will receive this MedGuide every time they receive antidepressant drugs or when there is a change in the amount they should take. The MedGuide will inform the patient of drug risks. Also, it will state if the drug is approved for young people.

The black box warnings and patient medication guide are the strongest warnings that the federal government can order without banning the drugs. Officials say computer users can read the warnings on F.D.A.'s Web site, www.fda.gov.

The President of Russia has signed a bill confirming his country's approval of the Kyoto Protocol. The signing clears the way for the agreement to come into force early next year.

The Russian government announced that President Vladimir Putin signed the bill last Thursday. Both houses of the Russian parliament approved the Kyoto Protocol last month.

The Kyoto Protocol aims to reduce the amount of pollution released into the environment. Some scientists say carbon dioxide and other industrial gases are to blame for climate changes around the world. The scientists say such gases build up in the atmosphere and trap heat below. They say this results in increasing temperatures and rising sea levels.

The Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in nineteen-ninety-seven at an international conference in Kyoto, Japan. It requires industrial nations to reduce the amount of industrial gases released, or emissions, to below the levels of nineteen-ninety.

Nations responsible for fifty-five percent of the world's industrial emissions must approve the agreement before it can go into effect. By last month, more than one hundred twenty nations had approved the agreement. These nations represent forty-four percent of all industrial emissions.

The European Union and many industrial nations have already approved the Kyoto Protocol. They will receive credit for their own emissions if they invest in cleaner technologies in developing nations. Developing nations will not have to meet the emissions requirements of the agreement.

Russia's approval became necessary after the United States rejected the Kyoto Protocol. The United States produced thirty-six percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions in nineteen-ninety.

In that year, Russia produced about seventeen percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. For years, Russia had delayed approval of the Kyoto Protocol because of economic concerns. Recently, however, the European Union pressured Russia to accept the treaty. In exchange, the E-U agreed to support Russian membership in the World Trade Organization.

Russia will now report its approval of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations. Ninety days later, the terms of the agreement will take effect.

This program was written by Lawan Davis, Jill Moss and Jerilyn Watson. Cynthia Kirk was our producer. And, our engineer was Dwayne Collins. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Bob Doughty. We would like to hear from you. Write to us at Special English, Voice of America, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-thirty-seven, U.S.A. Or listeners with computers can send electronic messages to [email protected] Join us again next week for Science in the News in VOA Special English.

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Source: SCIENCE IN THE NEWS - Pregnant Mothers and Depression / Anti-depression Drugs to Carry Stronger Warning / Kyoto Protocol To Become Law
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