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Science Media Centre Update Issue 144

Press Release – Science Media Centre

Report highlights avoidable deaths A report on maternal and perinatal deaths has raised some tough questions about maternal care in New Zealand. The Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PMMRC) released a report this week examining …Issue 144 July 29 – August 4
Report highlights avoidable deaths
A report on maternal and perinatal deaths has raised some tough questions about maternal care in New Zealand.

The Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PMMRC) released a report this week examining the state of New Zealand’s care of expecting and new mothers.

The PMMRC reviews maternal deaths and all deaths of infants from 20 weeks gestation to 28 completed days after birth, or weighing at least 400g if gestation is unknown.

The full report is available here.

The committee advises the Health Quality & Safety Commission on how to reduce the number of deaths of babies and mothers in New Zealand. Its latest report included figures on avoidable deaths.

“For the first time we are reporting that a number of perinatal deaths were potentially avoidable,” said PMMRC Chair, Professor Cynthia Farquhar.

“Of all perinatal deaths, 14 percent were thought to be potentially avoidable. That amounts to 98 lives that could have potentially been saved”.

The media have focused heavily on the ‘100 needless deaths’ statistic, drawing a rapid response from the Government.
Following the release of the report, Minister of Health Tony Ryall said in a press release:

“Each one of these cases is a tragedy and the Government is determined that the public health service can do better.

“Clearly some things need to change – that’s what the Government’s maternity quality and safety programme is about. We are determined to improve the services new parents and babies receive.”

Media coverage of the report and a summary of the report’s findings are available on the SMC website.

Carbon pricing and climate change risks
The 7th annual Australia-NZ Climate Change & Business Conference starts in Wellington next week (1-2 August).

The event highlights case studies from 17 businesses — including Fonterra, Qantas, Zespri, Fletcher Building, NZ Aluminium Smelters and Contact Energy — on how they are managing climate change related risks.

There will also be contributions from Dr Harry Clark, head of the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre and Dr Suzi Kerr, Motu Research economist, on land use and emissions trading implications.

Visiting speakers include industry experts from China, Korea, Japan and the US, who will present business case studies on the response of energy, manufacturing and other sectors to policy developments in their respective countries.

Of note — Dr Sang Hee Yoo, director of research on future strategies and green growth for Korea’s largest carbon emitter, POSCO Steel will be attending. POSCO announced a partnership New Zealand clean-tech firm Lanzatech earlier this year, planning collaborate on capturing industrial gases for conversion to ethanol.

For more information see the conference website.

Quoted: NewsTalk ZB

“Just to extrapolate failed policies and failed approaches to the developing world would be a tragedy.”

Sir Peter Gluckman,
on preventing obesity in developing countries

On the science radar

Energy-stingy sloths, invisibility cloaks, the Jesus-bot, Li-Fi future, sucking fish, mind-controlled machines.

Committee cautious on prostate screening
The Health Select Committee has opted not to recommend a national screening programme for prostate cancer

The committee made its recommendations in a report released Wednesday, based on an inquiry into early detection and treatment of prostate cancer initiated in May 2009.

Following extensive consultation, the committee determined that blanket use of prostate specific antigen (PSA) screening tests would be unwise, given the test’s lack of sensitivity. Not all men who exhibit high PSA levels go on to develop prostate cancer.

The committee instead recommended “that the Ministry of Health encourage and promote the case for men to seek up-to-date evidence-based information from their general practitioners about the advantages and disadvantages of screening and treatment for prostate cancer”.

Pathologist Prof Brett Delahunt of Otago University lauded the recommendation not to proceed with a national programme. Speaking to NZPA he reflected on the decision,

“I think we’re getting there … but to go for a full national screening programme I think is premature. I think that every urologist and pathologist in New Zealand would agree with me”

Related media coverage can be found on the SMC website.

New from the SMC

In the News:

Early start needed to tackle obesity – in a commentary article Sir Peter Gluckman and several colleagues have called for international policy makers to take a long view of the causes of obesity and related diseases.

High depression rates in NZ – New Zealand consistently ranks poorly in a variety of depression statistics, according to a new comparison of international data. The Dominion Post’s Kate Newton asks, why?

Whale Survey in Cook Strait – The annual Cook Strait Whale Survey is underway and two journalists taking part have uncovered a whale hunting legacy that goes back a hundred years.

Project Energize – Children taking part in an initiative called Project Energize show significant health benefits. Kids taking part in the project, which promotes healthy eating and exercise, are less obese and fitter than other children, according to a report published this week.
Reflections on Science:

Climate complexity – In the New Zealand Herald, meteorologist Jim Hessell describes the complexity of the earth’s atmosphere and how it will react to increasing greenhouse gases.

How much salt? – In a feature for the Press, writer Kate Fraser investigates the health effects of salt and what we are doing to mitigate them. We know salt isn’t great for us – but how much is too much?

Experts Respond:

Primate research in UK – A new report published this week recommends that scientific research on monkeys should continue in the UK – subject to rigorous safeguards. Funding bodies and researchers comment on the report’s conclusions.

Hendra Virus in dogs – Australian authorities announced this week that a dog had been diagnosed with Hendra virus. It is reportedly the first time an animal other than a bat, horse or human has contracted the disease. The AusSMC has collected expert commentary on the discovery.
Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week’s posts include:

The current ‘cool’ factor in science – Young New Zealander of the year and SciBlogs guest blogger, Jamie Fenton, reflects on how youth perceive science.

Crowd-sourcing for snow depth data – Ross Woods harnesses the power of the internet to build a data set of snow depth around the South Island.

Haemophilia – towards a cure using genetic engineering – Grant Jacobs reviews recent research in gene therapy which could provide a treatment from haemophiliacs.
Code for Life

Hard Talk on the wrong track – In the light of a recent BBC Hardtalk interview with the chair of the IPCC, Bryant Walker critically examines the role of the media in climate change coverage.
Hot Topic

Breivik’s terrorism and science – The architect of Norway’s tragedy, Andreas Breivik, held strong views on several scientific issues, according to Ken Perrott.
Open Parachute

Research highlights

Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.

NZ ranks high for depression: A new study has compared depression rates from around the globe and found that New Zealand consistently ranks highly in terms of depression incidence. Based on detailed interviews with over 89,000 people, this international survey found major depressive episodes were more common in individuals from developed, high income countries.
BMC Medicine

Sheep nibble at tree ring history: Tree ring thickness can be used to examine local climate history. However, new research has found herbivores may have a greater impact on the width of tree rings than climate. In an experimental setting, researchers found the presence of sheep was linked with decreases in ring width, which is also a marker of less-than-optimal seasonal temperatures. The study’s findings could help increase the accuracy of the tree ring record as a way of estimating past climatic conditions.
Functional Ecology

Plants use sound to attract bats: The oddly shaped leaves above the flowers of the vine Marcgravia evenia beckon bat pollinators by emitting a strong acoustic echo. Researchers found that the conspicuous echoes of dish-shaped leaves attract bat pollinators by being louder and covering a broader echo detection range than typical leaves.

Candida test identifies dangerous infections: New Zealand researchers have found that a collection of genetically similar strains of the fungus Candida albicans are twice as lethal, in younger patients, than other strains. The researchers have subsequently developed a PCR test that can be used for risk assessments of patients presenting with candida infection.
Journal of Clinical Microbiology

Parkinson’s and P: Methamphetamine (‘P’) abuse has been linked with an increased incidence of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers mined almost 300,000 hospital records covering 16 years. Patients admitted to hospital for methamphetamine or amphetamine-use disorders had a 76 per cent higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease compared to those with no disorder.
Drug and Alcohol Dependence

Light locks in implants: A new type of implant can be injected in liquid form, molded, and locked into place by exposure to a special type of light, reports a new study.The implant polymers, composed of synthetic poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) and natural hyaluronic acid (HA), showed excellent results in both rats and humans, indicating it may to be a useful tool for reconstructing delicate facial soft tissue. Images available.
Science Translational Medicine
Policy updates

Some of the highlights of this week’s policy news:

Maternal health improvements – Health Minister Tony Ryall has announced that two years of work on a new maternity quality and safety programme is coming to fruition. This includes a rebuilt information system going live this weekend to better record and monitor antenatal, birth and postnatal care.

Blood & DHB appointments – The Minister of Health has announced re-appointments to the New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) board, and a new appointment to the Lakes District Health Board.

Upcoming sci-tech events

Air Quality – a Healthy Balance – International Clean Air and Environment Conference – 31 July – 2 August, Auckland.

Using ocean drilling to unlock the secrets of slow slip events – IODP Workshop – 1-5 August, Gisborne.

7th Australia-New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference – 1-2 August, Wellington.

Out of Africa:The Allan Wilson Legacy – lecture from Professor Rebecca Cann – 1 August, Dunedin; 3 August, Nelson; 4 August, Palmerston North; 5 August, Wellington.

Bad Ideas: Will our best technology finish us off? – Public lecture by Prof Robert Winston – 2 August, Wellington.

Carbohydrates: friend or foe? – Lecture from Prof Lynnette Ferguson and Dr Nicholas Gant – 4 August, Wellington.

For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC’s Events Calendar.

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