Monday, April 28, 2008

Superbug fears hit British playgrounds

Panton and Valentine associated the toxin with soft tissue infections in 1932 so the NHS has had time to think of something to do about it

A superbug to which children are particularly vulnerable is spreading in Britain and specialists say the government is failing to take action to stop it. A Sunday Times investigation has found at least 10 youngsters aged between six and 13 have been left fighting for their lives after contracting the infection. Doctors are concerned because they appear to have caught the bug in playgrounds and parks.

The children were all hit by Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), a toxin that combines with MRSA, the bacteria that cause thousands of infections, sometimes lethal, in hospitals. Mark Enright, professor of molecular epidemiology at Imperial College London, said: “This infection can kill healthy children in one to two days, but the authorities are continuing to treat MRSA as purely a hospital problem and trying to assuage public opinion.”

Other specialists accuse the government of ignoring warnings about the seriousness of PVL-MRSA, failing to mount adequate infection surveillance and blocking the use of a treatment to tackle it. Professor Richard Wise, a leading microbiologist, says that he warned a government health minister three years ago of the threat, but little has been done.

The phenomenon of PVL-MRSA was identified in America several years ago. British doctors have now reported cases from the south coast to the Midlands. They include a six-year-old girl left brain-damaged after she fell off her scooter and contracted the infection in her shin bone, from where it spread throughout her body, and a nine-year-old boy who was crippled after a graze playing football.

The mother of a 10-year-old boy in London who caught the bug said: “One day he was playing happily and the next day he couldn’t see, speak or move. The doctors didn’t know what was happening. It was terrifying.” Official figures show that the number of recorded PVL infections rose from 224 in 2005 to 496 in 2006.


Poor white boys are victims too

By Trevor Phillips (The black chairman of Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission)

To be sure, the problems of racial discrimination against minorities haven't gone away - black and Asian young men are still up to seven times more likely to be arrested by the police; Pakistani men will earn more than a quarter of million pounds less than their white equivalents over a lifetime; and young Bangladeshi women are having to settle for jobs for which they are overqualified. But we are also confronting for the first time in my lifetime an equality deficit not much talked about at Westminster. I am referring to the growing underclass of poor white boys - a forgotten group who also face a kind of institutional racism. I am deeply worried that they will grow into poor, disillusioned, alienated white men.

Why should the Equality and Human Rights Commission care? Many people, including our friends, think that it exists largely to shout the odds for anybody who is not male, white, straight and able-bodied. But that is wrong on every count. We aren't a minorities' pressure group. We work for the whole of society, not just those at the margins - though those who suffer most disadvantage have a right to come first in the queue for our support. (And let's remember that some of those who face systematic inequality aren't small minorities - women are a majority, most of us will become parents and virtually all of us will get old.)

What we are is a body that attacks unfairness wherever it sees it. That's why some of the wider trends that may be leading to greater inequality are right at the top of our agenda - economic change, the skills gap and, above all, migration.

Let me be unambiguous about this last issue. I am pro-immigration. The British people's experience is that managed migration has brought great advantages to the country, not the tide of hate that Powell prophesied. But immigration has also raised important issues - not least that if we aren't careful, the benefits from it will fall into the hands of employers, shareholders and middle-class professionals, while any burdens are left to be borne by the poorest in society.

So we have to ensure that the positive impact of migration is not offset by the costs - such as public services under increased pressure and an infrastructure that is struggling to cope. Let these issues languish in the tray marked "too difficult to talk about", and resentment will grow. We also need to be clear that worrying about the consequences of immigration does not make you antiforeigner. And we must tackle a vital question: why are some groups in society not getting the chances they deserve? Last week two reports highlighted again the issue of underachievement. A report by the Bow Group, the Conservative think tank, showed that in the past 10 years almost 4m pupils left school without gaining the basic qualifications of five good GCSEs.

The cost to the economy of low educational attainment - and low social mobility - is 32 billion pounds a year, or 1,300 to the average family, according to Reform, the independent think tank. Its report spoke of the "why bother?" generation - people who feel shut out by the system. If people feel shut out, they will try to find someone easy to blame: the outsider, the immigrant.

At the commission, we are doing research on educational underachievement and its link to ethnicity. Initial findings reveal that, for example, Bangladeshi and black African students at school outperform their white peers from comparable economic and social backgrounds. Statistics also show that black African, Bangladeshi and Pakistani students achieve higher GCSE scores than equivalent white students. We know that it is not only white children from poorer background who are struggling. Black Caribbean children are also underachieving.

In the autumn, after our research is published, we will host a conference on white working-class boys. We want to listen to the pupils themselves, the teachers and the parents. And we need to demonstrate that fairness is about equal treatment for all - black, white or Asian. It is only in tackling these issues that we take the toxicity out of debates on immigration, race and socio-economic underachievement. Fair treatment and equal chances are everyone's right. No one should feel the work of the commission is "not about me".


British bureaucrats eat crow: "The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has issued an unprecedented apology to Wm Morrison for wrongly suggesting that Britain's fourth-largest supermarket group was guilty of fixing prices for butter and cheese five years ago. The competition watchdog agreed today to pay 100,000 pounds to settle a defamation case brought by the retailer over "serious errors" published in a press release last September. The OFT has also agreed to pay Morrison's costs in relation to the defamation case and a judicial review the supermarket launched in the wake of the OFT's strongly worded press release, which accused supermarkets of ripping off shoppers to the tune of 270 million. The OFT said in a statement today that its September release incorrectly stated that Morrison was the subject of a provisional finding of infringement in relation to the supply of butter and cheese in 2002 and 2003."

The corrupt EU again: "A British whistleblower who exposed alleged corruption at a European aid agency faces the sack after he told EU fraud investigators that his boss was involved in the scam. Terry Battersby, 53, from Manchester, has been removed from his job as head of information technology at the Brussels-based Centre for the Development of Enterprise (CDE) and placed on a short-term contract. Battersby uncovered evidence that the agency's former director, Hamed Sow, who is now the energy minister of the west African country of Mali, approved the award of lucrative European Union contracts to a company in which he had a financial interest. Sow is alleged to have arranged for the CDE to back a loan of nearly 3m pounds to a textile company in Mali, without disclosing that he owned up to 20% of the company and was receiving payments from the firm. The CDE, set up to support the private sector in poor countries, receives more than 14m a year in taxpayers' money from the EU."

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