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3 Key Medical News Stories: 25th April 2019

Mental health

Welcome to this week’s medical news round up! In our latest edition, we bring you the healthcare topics that have been under the microscope over the past week, just in time for your med school applications. 

Joining us this week: Parkinson’s disease, mental health patients and a malaria vaccine.

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Parkinson’s disease

Researchers develop a treatment to restore movement in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

New research has led to previously housebound patients being able to walk freely, due to electrical stimulation of the spine.

Parkinson’s reduces the signals between the brain and the legs, leading to the patient ‘freezing’ and being unable to walk.

The new spinal implant boosts the signal between the brain and the limbs via electrical stimulation, allowing patients to walk normally. Surprisingly, this implant provides long-lasting effects and works even when turned off.

With over 25% of patients having difficulty walking, this new potential treatment offers a drastic improvement in quality of life for patients and is therefore widely welcomed.

What can we learn from this?

Parkinson’s is a chronic, progressive disease that results in involuntary shaking and stiff muscles, affecting 145,000 people a year in the UK.

Until now, the focus of research has been on halting or reversing the disease. This new treatment is exciting as it offers huge potential of slowing down the disease and improving patient’s quality of life.

Question to think about: describe how a diagnosis of a chronic, degenerative disease such as Parkinson’s would impact on a patient and their family.

Read:  How to answer empathy questions

Mental health patients

A mental health patient was admitted to hospital for up to 21 years.

The news hits headlines following an investigation into mental health services in the UK. The investigation found that 435 patients spent time in locked rehabilitation wards in 2018, with one patient spending more than 21 years in one of the wards.

Locked rehabilitation wards are a unit where patients are unable to leave freely. First introduced 10 years ago, they aim to treat those considered high risk.

The NHS watchdog describes the units as ‘outdated and sometimes institutionalized care’ and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) states they have no place in the modern healthcare system.

What can we learn from this?

The mental health services are at the heart of the new NHS 10-year plan and they are continuously under review.

These findings confirm that some areas of the service may not be fit for purpose due to long inpatient stays. On the other hand, locked rehabilitation wards are essential to the services as they provide the safest and most appropriate treatment for some individuals.

Some say that that problem lies with an absence of a ‘step down service’ or community services that can support people leaving hospital and in their homes.

Question to think about: do you think the mental health service is fit for purpose? Explain your answer.

Read: NHS Hot Topics – Mental Health

Malaria vaccine

The world’s first malaria vaccine begins trials in Malawi.

Latest figures show that 435,000 people worldwide died of malaria in 2017. The parasite, spread by mosquitos, is sparking concerns due to a recent rise in cases.

The new RTS,S vaccine stimulates the immune system to fight the malaria parasite. Early trials showed that nearly 40% of vaccinated young children acquired protection.

Malawi is the first of three countries to pilot the vaccine, with the aim to immunize 120,000 children under two years old. Ghana and Kenya are the other two countries set to begin their pilot scheme.

The vaccine has been thirty years in the making and although has a relatively low efficacy, it is still a valuable addition to the preventative measures.

What can we learn from this?

The new vaccine is a “landmark for immunizations, malaria control and public health”. The three countries have a high number of cases despite already large attempts to tackle malaria.

Malaria is a difficult disease to develop a vaccine against and therefore this new vaccine is a breakthrough. To be effective, the patients need four doses of the vaccine. A lack of accessibility to clinics in these countries is a recognised barrier to vaccination.

Question to think about: describe your understanding of some of the challenges in global health.

Read: Understanding global health

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