Sunday, February 19, 2012

The American Left's hostility to "Big Pharma" is hitting sick Australians

Obama's FDA is doing all it can to make life difficult for drug companies -- meaning that it is now uneconomic or even impossible for them to produce some drugs

SHORTAGES of life-saving cancer drugs are putting thousands of Australian patients at risk. Drugs used to treat childhood cancers, breast and ovarian cancer, the deadly skin cancer melanoma and blood cancer have either run out or are in short supply because of manufacturing problems in the US.

The American drug regulator, the powerful Food and Drug Administration, ordered the upgrade of equipment at several drug manufacturing facilities in the US late last year. While there have been no findings that the drugs are unsafe, the Australian shortage is a direct result of pressure this action has put on the global supply chain.

Australian doctors are now worried they might have to ration supplies, delay treatment or use other medicines that are less effective and can result in serious side effects.

One of the "Rolls Royce" chemotherapy drugs - Caelyx, which is used for ovarian and breast cancer - has already run out and is not expected to be back in supply until 2013. Already national clinical trials using Caelyx to improve patient care in Australia have had to be cancelled.

Oncologists around the country are alarmed and are compiling an urgent submission to the Federal Government to devise a national strategy to secure supply.

The drug shortages have also sparked concerns about medication errors. Since the problem began in the US, one in four doctors have reported medication errors occurring in hospitals. Many of these were because of inexperience with alternative products. Some of the errors involved overdoses.

Clinical Oncology Society of Australia pharmacy chair Dan Mellor said the society had been notified that a number of chemotherapy drugs were out of stock. "Over the past 12 months there has been an increasing number of drugs that have become unavailable, particularly in the US. These are vital anti-cancer drugs," he said.

"The American drug regulator has been inspecting drug manufacturing facilities and towards the end of last year they closed down a number of them because they didn't meet standards. "Those factories were the worldwide solo producers of a number of chemotherapy drugs that are now no longer being produced until the factories can be brought up to scratch."


PM's guarantee on private school funding

FAMILIES fearing big rises in tuition fees have won a crucial guarantee that taxpayer funding to private schools will be protected.

But the Government will dump the current controversial arrangements that deliver big funding increases to private schools every time public school funding rises, regardless of their needs.

For the first time, the Gillard Government will back a pledge that "no school will lose a dollar" under a proposed new funding system, with a promise to offer new indexation arrangements covering grants to private schools.

The big changes proposed by the Gonski report on school funding, led by businessman David Gonski, will be unveiled tomorrow and are expected to endorse the ALP's longstanding push for a needs-based funding model. It will endorse parental rights to choose public or private schools, as vital.

Over time, the needs-based funding model is likely to deliver more money to some low-fee Catholic and independent schools and a big injection of funds to public schools. But the rapid growth in taxpayer funding for rich private schools is likely to slow under the new system.

"What we're saying is indexation will be built into any future model that will assist parents worried about future increases in school costs," Education Minister Peter Garrett said yesterday.

The existing system has been blamed for entrenching disadvantage in the system, ensuring that attempts to inject more funding to students with special needs or living in remote or Aboriginal communities, flowed on to wealthy private schools as well.

Instead, the new measure that determines funding to independent and Catholic schools will be based on an analysis of the cost of educating a child in both the public and private systems.

Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos backed the changes, warning public schools needed a "massive injection in funding".

"Disadvantaged students are up to two years behind other children. Indigenous students are up to three years behind. We don't have a level playing field," he said.


Melbourne in a Greek rush as new wave of migrants arrive

Melbourne is already one of the world's largest Greek cities

MELBOURNE is set for a new wave of Greek migrants as the nation's dismal economy drives away workers in search of jobs.

Fed up with unemployment above 17 per cent, hundreds of aspiring migrants have bombarded local Greek organisations looking for ways to call Melbourne home.

Department of Immigration figures show Australia is on track to record a 65 per cent increase in Greek migrants this financial year, after an influx in the last six months of 2011 as Europe's economic woes deepened.

And Melbourne - which has more Greek-speaking people than any city outside Athens and Thessaloniki - will take the lion's share, says Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne president Bill Papastergiadis.

He said the organisation had been swamped with hundreds of inquiries a month from Greeks wanting migration advice. "That really took effect once the economic situation deteriorated in Greece," Mr Papastergiadis said.

The number of Greeks visiting Australia on short-term visas also increased, with nearly 4000 arriving last year, up 21 per cent on 2009.

Melbourne already is home to more than 300,000 Greeks, with many arriving in the 1950s and 1960s when government migration schemes sought Greeks and Italians.

Lazarus Karasavvidis said his international recruitment and training firm Skillup Australia had witnessed a tenfold increase in the number of Greek people wanting work in Melbourne in the last six months of 2011. "The vast majority of them are young, urban professionals. They're well qualified, they're looking for a new home," Mr Karasavvidis said.

Melbourne's Ellie Doulgeris, 20, said Greek relatives planned to migrate. "Some are willing to stick it through, but things aren't great," Ms Doulgeris said.


Chaos in Qld. schools, warn teachers as uniform but unrealistic national curriculum is rolled out

CHILDREN and teachers are stressed, a statewide computer system keeps crashing and "total confusion" reigns over what has to be taught in state schools under the rollout of the Australian curriculum, teachers warn.

Early Childhood Teachers' Association president Kim Walters said some of the new curriculum content was too hard for the state's youngest children and teachers couldn't download required resources because the network kept crashing or there were access and speed problems.

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates agreed there were problems with the network, saying Education Queensland did not have "sufficient bandwidth" to handle the number of users for its online Curriculum into the Classroom (C2C) package.

LNP education spokesman Bruce Flegg said the State Government had failed students by "rushing in the curriculum" before New South Wales and Victoria.

Curriculum concerns at new three Rs

Queensland students this year are among the first in the country to take on the Australian curriculum in all Prep to Year 10 classes in English, mathematics and science.

Ms Walters said curriculum content was another problem, with Preps in particular not ready for some of it. "One of our lessons in the first week ... was recognising the number name F-O-U-R, for four. Some of them can't even recognise their name," she said.

"Just having your 26 children sitting on a mat all doing the same thing at once ... is physically impossible in the first week of school with children who aren't ready to do school yet. I think some of the children are very stressed. "Definitely there are a lot of stressed teachers as they try to do their very best."

She also said teachers were being sent mixed messages about whether they had to teach C2C lesson plans, but EQ had moved to fix this.

Mr Bates said there were "some very stressed teachers" who were trying to do their best with the new curriculum, but there was always going to be teething issues in this "transition year". "Is it too hard? In some cases it might be more than we previously expected, but that is certainly one of the challenges I think teachers are up to," he said.

Mr Bates said there were clear messages about what was expected of teachers in the classroom, but because teachers were so busy with the curriculum the message wasn't always getting through.

EQ had told the Courier-Mail in the past C2C is not mandatory, but teachers continue to report receiving mixed messages about the status of C2C on the ground."

EQ director-general Julie Grantham said the implementation of the national curriculum was challenging and rewarding with the department valuing teacher feedback, "especially around C2C".

Assistant director-general of Information and Technologies Dave O'Hagan said the department was monitoring the computer systems and had upgraded the bandwidth, but there were still challenges in regional areas because of limited broadband availability. He said there were also "some stability issues" which caused the network to crash last week.


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