HEALTH TRIBUNE Wednesday, February 23, 2000, Chandigarh, India
 

Disability: a problem, not a curse
These days 23-year-old partially sighted Neil Bighman is a happy man. After a string of jobs in which he found his disability a serious handicap, he can now tackle with confidence most of the skills of a busy office. Neil, employed at British Gas in Manchester, north-west England, is one of a growing number of disabled people currently receiving help to return to productive work. It is all due to a concerted drive by the United Kingdom government to persuade firms and to sign up to a major initiative called 'New Deal for Disabled People'.

A vaccine for prostate cancer
By Shirish Joshi
American medical researchers have developed a vaccine for cancer of the prostate by using a genetically engineered virus. It has successfully been used to attack prostate cancer cells in humans for the first time. It is given like a flu shot.

Protecting the elderly
Senior citizens of Panchkula have got a fraternal new millennium gift of health-care from the Servants of People Society, Lajpat Rai Bhawan, Chandigarh. A centre with X-ray, laboratory and other facilities has come up at the Senior Citizens Council Bhawan, Sector 15, Panchkula.

Breakthrough in organ transplant
In France, a man will again feel the warmth of his children's hands in his. A simple act, but only possible now that surgeons have given him the limbs of a dead man. More transplants are planned. Do they offer real hope or future horror?

The will and the way of Swapna

 
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Disability: a problem, not a curse

These days 23-year-old partially sighted Neil Bighman is a happy man. After a string of jobs in which he found his disability a serious handicap, he can now tackle with confidence most of the skills of a busy office. Neil, employed at British Gas in Manchester, north-west England, is one of a growing number of disabled people currently receiving help to return to productive work. It is all due to a concerted drive by the United Kingdom government to persuade firms and to sign up to a major initiative called 'New Deal for Disabled People'.

The fact that they urgently need a new deal is highlighted by stark statistics in the UK. There are six million people of working age with disabilities. Some 2.8 million are employed, and 336,000 are unemployed. Overall, a total of 195 million spread over the next five years will be spent by the government on helping disabled people seeking work.

Since the New Deal was launched, 24 innovative projects, some of which are partnerships of national, local disability organisations, private companies and health authorities, have also been set up, receiving 5 million in government aid. The schemes involve training for disabled people in a number of fields, many combined with fitness programmes.

The individual projects, overseen by Social Security Minister, Hugh Bayley, and Employment and Equal Opportunities Minister, Margaret Hodge — part of a joint initiative by two government departments, Social Security and Education and Employment — entail far more than just getting job-seekers to a desk for work bench. The overall working environment has to be right with money available to pay in part for adjustments to building and technology, such as the provision of specially enhanced fire alarms and vibrating pagers for employees with hearing disadvantages.

Neil Bighman, who is benefiting from a project at British Gas, says: "I get regular assessment to see what further support I need in addition to the screen magnifier and magnification software I have been given for my computer”.

Neil already holds two levels in the Diploma of Information Technology and Plans to go for further study. He says that the assessment he receives work wonders for his sense of confidence in the workplace. He admits: "I made minor mistakes in my previous jobs which led people to question my ability and that got me down. People were also reluctant to approach me because they thought they might be offending me."

Up to 50 additional people, 80 per cent of whom have a disability, are working with Neil Bighman. The remainder are those who have cared previously for a sick or disabled member of their family and who now feel able to return to work. Flexible working hours have been agreed with cares to allow them to tackle both their home and work responsibilities.

Another disabled man who is finding his life transformed due to the New Deal is Ian Bullion, a 35-year-old building worker from Leicester, English Midlands, who was involved in a horrific road accident and left clinically dead. But Ian has battled against his injuries and, thanks to a pioneering scheme known as “Back to Work”, has been able to rejoin his old trade.

"Back to Work" is undertaken by Libra Health, a private sector specialist health organisation, which under the “New Deal for Disabled People”, is currently offering free advice, guidance and support to sufferers from a wide range of musculo-skeletal and psychological conditions and disabilities.

Further details of the 24 individual schemes countrywide were outlined at a conference on Race and Disability held in the southern town of Reading at the end of last May. In Reading itself, organisation is carried out by two groups, Scout Enterprises and Support Shop, under the title Release. As well as help in the search for work, they plan to offer vocational qualifications and business start up support.

Organiser Colin Wilman says: "Disabled people, whether they are starting out in work or are returning to employment after a long period, often feel intimidated. One answer is to introduce them gradually to a working environment through a Neighbourhood Work Centre. This replicates a typical office with a range of information technology equipment made available."

A scheme which concentrates on the specific needs of disabled people from ethnic minorities in the UK's East Midlands is run by Disability Business Partnerships. Abida Abubaker is one of the scheme's leading organisers involved in seeking work for Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani disabled people.

Abida says: "Those from ethnic minorities and who live in the West Midlands, where there is a large ethnic population, often have two problems. One is the disability itself and the other is language. Part of my job under the New Deal is to persuade often reluctant employers to take on people who speak limited English and whose natural language is Bengali or Punjabi."

She and others responsible for initiating the New Deal have to confront anxieties and deepseated prejudices among would be employers. She says: "For instance, there is a reluctance to give jobs to disabled people that are high profile and involve contact with the public."

Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett, who additionally unveiled in London recently a nationwide hard-hitting multimedia campaign highlighting the needs of those who are disabled, stressed the determination of the government to make the New Deal work for disabled people at every level. That includes telling employers of the low cost and potential benefits to customers of employing the disabled.

Use website: www.dss.gov.uk for more information.

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A vaccine for prostate cancer
By Shirish Joshi

American medical researchers have developed a vaccine for cancer of the prostate by using a genetically engineered virus. It has successfully been used to attack prostate cancer cells in humans for the first time. It is given like a flu shot.

Dr Jonathan Simons, Associate Professor of Oncology and Urology at Johns Hopkins Oncology Centre in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the research said: "We were astounded to find that every part of the immune system was alerted and turned on".

Using gene therapy, they re-educated the immune system in the human body to recognise prostate cancer cells as a potential infection and attack them. The scientists were astounded to find that every part of the immune system was alerted and turned on.

The vaccine was given to 11 patients whose cancers had continued to grow even after their prostate glands were removed. Scientists took cancer cells from the patients' own prostate tumours during surgery and grew them in the laboratory. They then used a virus to carry an additional gene which causes the immune system to attack specific tumours.

These cells were then exposed to gamma rays to stop them from growing and then injected into the patients' thighs in the hope that they would prime the immune system to destroy similar tumour cells. Within four weeks, they saw signs of the fact that anti-cancer immune cells were circulating in the blood stream. They had never seen such a complete and thorough activation of the immune system against prostate cancer.

The vaccine appeared to offer a new approach to treatment. Genetically engineered vaccines like this could make a real difference when used as an additional therapy to mop up microscope cancer cells left behind following surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

There was no need for the patients to stay in the hospital.

The only side-effects they suffered were some flu-like symptoms and several days of redness and itching where the injection was given.

The prostate gland is a chestnut-shaped male organ located next to the bladder and surrounding the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outlet). Measuring about 3 cm across, the prostate gland is composed of the glandular tissue that produces the prostate fluid.

There are a variety of prostate disorders that commonly afflict men of all ages. The most common prostate disease is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a non-cancerous condition with an unknown cause. It occurs in approximately 70 to 80 per cent of men as they reach their 70s and 80s.

In BPH, the prostate gland can increase in size from 20 g which is the average size of the prostate in younger men, to as large as 150 g. As the prostate grows, it constricts the urethra, possibly causing a partial obstruction of the bladder.

Such obstruction may lead to the bladder wall's thickening and urination problems. Symptoms such as frequent urination, night time repeated urination, a feeling of urgency to urinate, difficulty in emptying the bladder and a weak urinary stream are usual.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in elderly men and the second most common cause of cancer-related death in men. Prostate cancer causes few, if any, symptoms in its early stages but as it progresses, it can lead to difficulties with urination and bleeding in the urinary tract, and the cancer can spread to other areas of the body.

Prostate cancer may be detected by digital rectal examination. Testing for abnormally high blood levels of the protein known as prostate-specific antigen(PSA) is also used to diagnose the disease. Prostate cancer is treated using hormones, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgical procedures.

Doctors recommend that all middle-aged men past 60 should have an annual digital rectal examination to detect any prostate cancer before it causes symptoms. Many doctors also recommend as annual PSA test, which can detect small tumours before they can be felt.

However, some doctors fear that this use of the PSA test may find some slow-growing cancers that would never become life-threatening. Treating such cancers may subject patients to the risks of unnecessary surgery or other procedures. But doctors cannot yet predict which tumours will become life-threatening.

The human immune system is a very powerful weapon for fighting disease and it has long been a goal of cancer researchers to harness this power and turn it against cancer cells.

The advantage of using the immune system to attack cancer cells is that it is able to hunt out cancer cells that might have spread to other parts of the body and that cannot be removed surgically. Further trials are in progress.

— Based on information available on the Internet.
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Protecting the elderly

Senior citizens of Panchkula have got a fraternal new millennium gift of health-care from the Servants of People Society, Lajpat Rai Bhawan, Chandigarh. A centre with X-ray, laboratory and other facilities has come up at the Senior Citizens Council Bhawan, Sector 15, Panchkula.

The inaugural blessings for this place of healing were given by Swami Pitambarananda of the Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Chandigarh. He exhorted the senior citizens, quoting Swami Vivekananda: Only they live who live to serve others selflessly.

Dr (Brig.) M.L. Kataria and the members of his team, who have been operating the Senior Citizens Health-Care Centre at Lajpat Rai Bhawan for a decade, will run the Panchkula institution also.

Dr Kataria has placed the services of the centre at the disposal of the District Administration. It can be utilised for helping the elderly in remote areas of the prestigious district of Haryana.

Mr Onkar Chand, Secretary, Servants of the People Society; Maj-Gen. J.S. Bhullar, Chairman, North Zone Senior Citizens Federation; Brig. Keshav Chander of the Senior Citizens Association; and several other eminent persons have promised to help the new centre.

— K.P.S.
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Breakthrough in organ transplant

In France, a man will again feel the warmth of his children's hands in his. A simple act, but only possible now that surgeons have given him the limbs of a dead man. More transplants are planned. Do they offer real hope or future horror? William Peakin explains:

When the heart, liver or kidneys are given for transplantation, most patients do not really wonder about the donor, perhaps beyond offering a silent prayer of thanks. But when the donor has provided a pair of hands, it's different. Hands are visible, personal. A constant reminder that someone now dead touched, are, lived and loved with them. And though few of us will ever have to look at someone else's hands and reflect on this — there have only been three hand transplants so far — the initial success of these operations suggests that many more will follow. Not just hands, either; other limbs, even faces. It is a startling thought, not encouraged by the surgeons behind this medical phenomenon. Speculation about the identity of donors in radical operations runs second to improving the lot of the living, even though reminders of those who died could be literally staring us in the face. (A detailed story will appear next week.)

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The will and the way of Swapna

Swapna Augustine (24) was born without hands. She is one of those disabled persons who cannot get electronic hands fitted to their bodies because of physiological reasons. But she has conquered her handicap with a strong will. She paints exquisitely with her toes. Roshni, the low-profile organisation dedicated to the rehabilitation of the disabled poor, has made hundreds of her paintings available to the people nationwide as decorative works of art and as greeting cards. One can get in touch with her at Roshni, 25 Gulab Nagar, Rajpura, Punjab, and telephone the Mission Centre for help at 01762-27004.

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