Cot death charity raises doubts over baby boxes

Baby asleep in baby boxImage copyright Alamy

A cot death charity has raised doubts over the benefits of Finnish-style baby boxes, which infants can sleep in.

Issuing new advice to parents, The Lullaby Trust said there was no evidence baby boxes reduced the rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The cardboard box, filled with baby products and a mattress, can itself be used as a bed, and has been given to new parents by some NHS trusts.

The charity said its leaflets would no longer be put in the boxes.

"We will no longer allow our branded leaflets to be enclosed...as this suggests we endorse the product," said the charity, which provides expert advice on safer baby sleep for the NHS.

The box tradition originates from Finland, where for 75 years, every pregnant woman has been given a box filled with things like nappies, clothes, bedding and a mattress.

Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world - two deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with a global rate of 32 in 1,000, according to the UN.

Francine Bates, chief executive of the Lullaby Trust, told BBC Radio 5 live Finland's "fantastic record" was due to a variety of reasons, including lower teenage pregnancy rates.

She said:"The fact that they give a box out to every family may be a factor but we can't say that definitively."

'We were reluctant to give it up'

Image caption Miia's son slept in his baby box until he outgrew it at five months old

Miia, 40, and her partner Tim, from Reading, were sent a baby box by her Finnish mother when their son was born eight months ago.

She told the BBC:"It's quite a traditional thing.I slept in one myself.You get a box full of baby clothes from newborn to one years old.

"The idea is that you get the basics so you don't have to buy any more.You also get toys and toothbrushes and all sorts of other things.

"A foam mattress is included so you can use it as a box to sleep in.We ended up using it until he was about five months old.

"We kept the box on the floor next to the bed on my side.He was happy and I think he felt quite safe in it.I was quite reluctant to move him away from it.

"But when he got bigger he started to wake himself up knocking against the side of the box.It was getting a bit snug."

A box scheme is due to be rolled out for all newborn babies across Scotland[1] this month.Some areas in England also give out boxes.

A spokesperson for the Scottish government said it was "proud" to introduce the box in Scotland, where it will "help tackle deprivation, improve health and support parents".

Image copyright Scottish government Image caption The Scottish baby boxes contains 50 different items for the first year of a child's life

They said the Scottish baby box meets the "highest safety standards", adding:"It was awarded British Safety Standard accreditation as a crib for domestic use - the first non-commercial baby box in the world to do so."

image

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionHow to put your baby to sleep safely

Ms Bates said that while the boxes can be tested for elements of safety standards, "the fact is there is no safety standard anywhere in the world that applies directly to a cardboard box."

"We're very clear that a cot or a Moses basket is the safest place for a baby to sleep," she said, adding that she was concerned the boxes were being marketed as products to reduce sudden infant death syndrome.

However, she said the box may be a good option for daytime naps if there is no alternative, and that it was "certainly a better alternative than sleeping a baby on a beanbag or a sofa".

SIDS[2], also known as cot death, is the sudden unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby.

There were 230 sudden infant deaths in the UK in 2014, following a downward trend in the last decade.In 2001, there were 330.

The do's and don'ts of baby boxes:

If you do decide to use a baby box, the Lullaby Trust recommends the following:

  • Only use the box for daytime naps and sleep your baby in a cot or a Moses basket next to your bed during the night
  • Do not lift or carry the box around your home if the baby is in it
  • Do not put the lid on the box if your baby is in it
  • Do not put extra bedding on top of the mattress to raise your baby up to a higher level
  • Make sure the box is placed on a solid surface and cannot topple over
  • Do not use the box if it gets wet or soiled
  • Do not put the box on an under heated floor
  • Keep pets away from the box
  • Do not leave the baby unattended or out of view
  • Do not use the box once your baby is able to roll
  • Make sure you comply with any instructions relating to maximum age and weight

Have you used a baby box for your child?Share your views and experiences by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..[3]

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist.You can also contact us in the following ways:...

  • WhatsApp:+447555 173285
  • Tweet:@BBC_HaveYourSay[4]
  • Send pictures/video to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.[5]
  • Upload your pictures / video here[6]
  • Send an SMS or MMS to 61124 or +44 7624 800 100

References

  1. ^ rolled out for all newborn babies across Scotland (www.bbc.co.uk)
  2. ^ SIDS (www.nhs.uk)
  3. ^ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (www.bbc.co.uk)
  4. ^ @BBC_HaveYourSay (twitter.com)
  5. ^ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (www.bbc.co.uk)
  6. ^ Upload your pictures / video here (bbcnewsupload.streamuk.com)

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Global blindness set to 'triple by 2050'

Glasses on an eye chartImage copyright Getty Images Image caption More than 200 million people are living with moderate to severe vision impairment

The number of blind people across the world is set to triple within the next four decades, researchers suggest.

Writing in Lancet Global Health[1], they predict cases will rise from 36 million to 115 million by 2050, if treatment is not improved by better funding.

A growing ageing population is behind the rising numbers.

Some of the highest rates of blindness and vision impairment are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The percentage of the world's population with visual impairments is actually falling, according to the study.

But because the global population is growing and more people are living well into old age, researchers predict the number of people with sight problems will soar in the coming decades.

Analysis of data from 188 countries suggests there are more than 200 million people with moderate to severe vision impairment.

That figure is expected to rise to more than 550 million by 2050.

"Even mild visual impairment can significantly impact a person's life," said lead author Prof Rupert Bourne, from Anglia Ruskin University.

"For example, reducing their independence...as it often means people are barred from driving."

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The study calls for better investment in cataract surgery

He said it also limited people's educational and economic opportunities.

The worst affected areas for visual impairment are in South and East Asia.Parts of sub-Saharan Africa also have particularly high rates.

The study calls for better investment in treatments, such as cataract surgery, and ensuring people have access to appropriate vision-correcting glasses.

Prof Rupert Bourne said:"Interventions provide some of the largest returns on investment.

"They are some of the most easily implemented interventions in developing regions."

"They are cheap, require little infrastructure and countries recover their costs as people enter back into the workforce," he said.

The charity Sightsavers, which works in more than thirty countries to try to eliminate avoidable blindness, says it is seeing a rise in conditions such as cataracts, where the eye's lens clouds over.

"Due to an ageing population and a rise in chronic disease, we expect the burden of blindness to only grow within the world's poorest countries" said Imran Khan from the charity.

He said health systems in developing countries need to be improved, and more surgeons and nurses need to be trained to deliver sustainable eye health care....

Blindness affects:

  • 11.7 million people in South Asia
  • 6.2 million people in East Asia
  • 3.5 million people in South East Asia
  • more than 4% of the population in parts of sub-Saharan Africa
  • less than 0.5% of the population of Western Europe

References

  1. ^ Lancet Global Health (www.thelancet.com)

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Human embryos edited to stop disease

EmbryoImage copyright OHSU Image caption Pictures of the genetically modified embryos

Scientists have, for the first time, successfully freed embryos of a piece of faulty DNA that causes deadly heart disease to run in families.

It potentially opens the door to preventing 10,000 disorders that are passed down the generations.

The US and South Korean team allowed the embryos to develop for five days before stopping the experiment.

The study hints at the future of medicine, but also provokes deep questions about what is morally right.

Science is going through a golden age in editing DNA thanks to a new technology called Crispr, named breakthrough of the year in just 2015[1].

Its applications in medicine are vast and include the idea of wiping out genetic faults that cause diseases from cystic fibrosis to breast cancer.

Heart stopper

US teams at Oregon Health and Science University and the Salk Institute along with the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea focused on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

The disorder is common, affecting one in every 500 people, and can lead to the heart suddenly stopping beating.

It is caused by an error in a single gene (an instruction in the DNA), and anyone carrying it has a 50-50 chance of passing it on to their children.

In the study, described in the journal Nature[2], the genetic repair happened during conception.

Sperm from a man with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was injected into healthy donated eggs alongside Crispr technology to correct the defect.

It did not work all the time, but 72% of embryos were free from disease-causing mutations.

Eternal benefit

Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a key figure in the research team, said:"Every generation on would carry this repair because we've removed the disease-causing gene variant from that family's lineage.

"By using this technique, it's possible to reduce the burden of this heritable disease on the family and eventually the human population."

There have been multiple attempts before, including, in 2015, teams in China using Crispr-technology to correct defects that lead to blood disorders.

But they could not correct every cell, so the embryo was a "mosaic" of healthy and diseased cells.

Their approach also led to other parts of the genetic code becoming mutated.

Those technical obstacles have been overcome in the latest research.

However, this is not about to become routine practice.

The biggest question is one of safety, and that can be answered only by far more extensive research.

There are also questions about when it would be worth doing - embryos can already be screened for disease through pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

However, there are about 10,000 genetic disorders that are caused by a single mutation and could, in theory, be repaired with the same technology.

Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, from the Francis Crick Institute, told the BBC:"A method of being able to avoid having affected children passing on the affected gene could be really very important for those families.

"In terms of when, definitely not yet.It's going to be quite a while before we know that it's going to be safe."

Nicole Mowbray lives with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and has a defibrillator implanted in her chest in case her heart stops.

But she is unsure whether she would ever consider gene editing:"I wouldn't want to pass on something that caused my child to have a limited or painful life.

"That does come to the front of my mind when I think about having children.

"But I wouldn't want to create the 'perfect' child, I feel like my condition makes me, me."

Ethical?

Darren Griffin, a professor of genetics at the University of Kent, said:"Perhaps the biggest question, and probably the one that will be debated the most, is whether we should be physically altering the genes of an IVF embryo at all.

"This is not a straightforward question...equally, the debate on how morally acceptable it is not to act when we have the technology to prevent these life-threatening diseases must also come into play."

The study has already been condemned by Dr David King, from the campaign group Human Genetics Alert, which described the research as "irresponsible" and a "race for first genetically modified baby".

Dr Yalda Jamshidi, a reader in genomic medicine at St George's University of London, said:"The study is the first to show successful and efficient correction of a disease-causing mutation in early stage human embryos with gene editing.

"Whilst we are just beginning to understand the complexity of genetic disease, gene-editing will likely become acceptable when its potential benefits, both to individuals and to the broader society, exceeds its risks."

The method does not currently fuel concerns about the extreme end of "designer babies" engineered to have new advantageous traits.

The way Crispr is designed should lead to a new piece of engineered DNA being inserted into the genetic code.

However, in a complete surprise to the researchers, this did not happen.

Instead, Crispr damaged the mutated gene in the father's sperm, leading to a healthy version being copied over from the mother's egg.

This means the technology, for now, works only when there is a healthy version from one of the parents.

Prof Lovell-Badge added:"The possibility of producing designer babies, which is unjustified in any case, is now even further away."

Follow James on Twitter[3]....

References

  1. ^ in just 2015 (www.sciencemag.org)
  2. ^ described in the journal Nature (nature.com)
  3. ^ on Twitter (twitter.com)

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Game of Thrones's Harington backs disability campaign

Kit Harington with his cousins

Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington has called on the government to fund six years' back pay for overnight carers.

Revenue &Customs has ruled care workers sleeping overnight to provide safety and reassurance should get the national minimum wage for all hours.

But Harington fears people such as his cousin Laurent, who has Down's syndrome and autism, could suffer as a result.

The government said it would "ensure that action taken to protect workers is fair and proportionate".

But Harington said:"If the charities can't pay this bill, then people are going to be left without the care they need."

Pay row threatens overnight care for vulnerable[1]

Patients with learning disabilities missing out on health checks[2]

While on night shifts, most employees providing care in people's own homes or accommodation run by Mencap and other organisations are allowed to sleep, providing they can be woken to deal with any incidents.

According to minimum wage legislation, employers must take into account shifts where staff are allowed to sleep as long as they are "at work and under certain work-related responsibilities".

Until recently, many overnight care workers were paid a flat rate allowance for the "sleep-in", about £30.

But in April, following an employment tribunal appeal ruling, all workers were granted a minimum of £7.50 per hour for the whole shift.

Last week, the government announced a temporary suspension to enforcement action by HMRC until October, but many charities say they will not be able to cover the bill for back pay.

Harington, who plays Jon Snow in the television series, said:"If this legislation goes ahead and the back pay bill lands squarely at the charities' and providers' feet and they have to pay it, many people like Laurent are not going to have that 24-7 care.

"This bill cannot be paid by the charities.For me, it's as simple as this can't be allowed to stand.

"Laurent loves swimming, he loves Zumba, he loves dancing, and he loves going to the disco.He needs to live the life he loves living.

"When my aunt can't care for him the way she has, we will need to find that for him, and my worry is that the way things are going, it's going to be harder and harder for Laurent to find what he needs.

"Basically, I think the government needs to pay it.The bill needs to be footed, and it needs to be footed by the government."

Important for society

Harington said that he feared for charities and individuals paying for care for family members.

He said:"This issue is of the greatest importance, I think, not just for me but for our society that we live in.

"Our duty for society is to care for the most vulnerable in our society.If this bill is having to be paid by the charities that cannot pay it, the most vulnerable in our society are going to be left without care.

"That's not a society I believe in or want to live in, so it's of the greatest importance, and it's urgent."

Mencap chairman, Derek Lewis said:"Employers are keen to fulfil their responsibilities to employees.But if the government changes the rules on how sleep-in payments should be paid, it must expect to have to pay for the changes.

"We reiterate our call to government to accept its responsibility and make an urgent commitment to fund the back pay bill, for the sake of those vulnerable people who depend on this care and for the dedicated people who provide that care.Time is running out."

Unison, which represents a number of overnight carers, said:"It's the government's failure to fund social care properly that risks devastating the care sector, not the workers asking for a legal wage.

"Charities and care companies have known for a long time they must pay sleep-in staff at least the minimum wage.But it's only now HM Revenue &Customs is in pursuit that many are pleading poverty and asking for an exemption from the law."

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said:"The government will continue to look at this issue extremely carefully alongside industry representatives to see whether any further support is needed and ensure that action taken to protect workers is fair and proportionate, while seeing how it might be possible to minimise any impact on social care provision."...

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'Exciting discovery' in common cold cure search

Common coldImage copyright SPL

Scientists believe they may have made a breakthrough in the search for a cure for the common cold.

Researchers say treatments could be developed based on antimicrobial peptides that occur naturally in the immune systems of humans and animals.

The Edinburgh Napier University team observed how they increase the body's natural response to rhinovirus infection.

Rhinovirus is the main virus responsible for the common cold.

The team synthesised antimicrobial peptides found in pigs and sheep, and assessed their impact on lung cells infected with rhinovirus.

The peptides successfully attacked the virus, and could provide clues for developing novel treatments based on peptides found in nature.

Next steps

Dr Peter Barlow, associate professor of immunology and infection at the university, said:"This is an exciting discovery and our next steps will be to modify the peptide to make it even better at killing this virus.

"This research is still in the early stages, but we will ultimately be looking to develop drug treatments that have the potential to cure the common cold."

An effective treatment for the cold could help sufferers of more serious lung conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), for whom viral infections can pose a serious health risk.

Prof Barlow added:"There is no cure and no vaccine so the development of effective therapies for human rhinovirus, the main causal agent of the common cold and one of the most common causes of viral respiratory tract infections, is an urgent requirement.

"This study represents a major step towards finding a treatment."

Earlier research by Dr Barlow had underlined the potential of antimicrobial peptides in tackling the influenza A virus.

The latest study, was funded by the Chief Scientist Office and medical research charity Tenovus Scotland....

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