- Boy Scouts face release of damaging child sex abuse files
- U.S. and allies to hold Gulf military exercise
- China struggles to cure the violent ills of health system
Posted: 16 Sep 2012 04:33 PM PDT
(Reuters) - The Boy Scouts of America could face a wave of bad publicity as decades of records of confirmed or alleged child molesters within the U.S. organisation are expected to be released in coming weeks.
On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported the organisation failed to report allegations of sex abuse of scouts by adult leaders and volunteers to police in hundreds of cases from 1970 to 1991. In some cases, the Boy Scouts helped the accused "cover their tracks," the paper said.
The story was based on a review of 1,600 internal Boy Scouts case files the newspaper said it obtained that detailed accusations against confirmed or alleged child molesters within the youth organisation.
About 1,200 "ineligible volunteer" files dating from 1965 to 1985 are set to be publicly released under a June order by the Oregon Supreme Court, including some already reviewed by the newspaper.
Those files played a key role in a 2010 civil trial in which an Oregon jury found the Boy Scouts liable in a 1980s paedophile case and ordered the organisation to pay nearly $20 million in damages.
The files will be released within three to four weeks, said Paul Mones, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff in the Oregon case.
In the wake of revelations about systemic child sex abuse within the Catholic Church and the recent Penn State sex abuse scandal, the files threaten to damage the reputation of one of America's most trusted institutions.
Mones said the allegations revealed in the Oregon case are not necessarily comparable to the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal.
"In the Catholic Church there were overt cover-ups, and I don't think you see a lot of that here with the Boy Scouts," Mones told Reuters on Sunday.
The Boy Scouts of America said in a statement on Sunday that while it regrets past incidents where scouts were sexually abused, its current policies require even suspicions of abuse to be reported directly to law enforcement.
"The BSA (has) continuously enhanced its multi-tiered policies and procedures, which now include background checks, comprehensive training programs and safety policies," the statement said.
The organisation said it has maintained an internal "ineligible volunteer" file since at least 1919 to prevent suspected or confirmed child sex abusers from joining or re-entering its ranks.
Boy Scouts of America officials and attorneys have said the files represent only a fraction of the adults who participate as scout leaders each year.
The Boy Scouts have annually counted between 3.5 and 5 million scouts and more than 1 million adult leaders and volunteers among its members since the 1960s, a spokesman for the organisation said.
The organisation is facing more than 50 pending child sexual abuse cases in 18 states, according to Kelly Clark, another plaintiff attorney in the Oregon case.
Mones said he did not expect many new lawsuits to result from the upcoming release of the Scouts' files, predicting that statutes of limitation on sex abuse charges in most U.S. states would prevent victims from successful civil or criminal prosecution of alleged molesters.
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 16 Sep 2012 03:34 PM PDT
DUBAI (Reuters) - Warships from around the world were assembling in the Gulf on Sunday for what the U.S. military described as the most widely attended international naval exercise ever held in the Middle East.
The exercise, which Washington says involves manoeuvres to improve mine detection and clearance, comes at a time of rising regional tensions over Iran's controversial nuclear programme.
Tehran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's sea-borne oil exports passes, and target U.S. military bases in the region if it was attacked.
The U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said that the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 12 involved vessels and officials from 30 countries in six continents. It did not name the participating nations.
"This exercise is about mines and the international effort to clear them," said Vice Admiral John W. Miller, Commander of the Central Command, in a statement on its website.
"Represented here are the best of our individual countries' efforts dedicated to securing the global maritime commons and I look forward to seeing how this exceptional team of professionals moves forward."
The West and Israel believe Iran is seeking an atomic weapon, while Tehran says its work is for peaceful purposes.
Israel, concerned international sanctions have not stopped Iran's programme, has been pushing Washington to spell out limits Tehran must not cross if it is to avoid military action - something U.S. President Barack Obama has refused to do.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday that Iran was just six to seven months away from the brink of being able to build a nuclear bomb, adding urgency to his demand that Obama set a "red line" for Tehran.
Obama has asked Netanyahu to hold off on any Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear sites to give sanctions and diplomacy time to work.
The official U.S. Navy News Service said last month that Washington was cutting short home leave for the crew of one of its aircraft carriers and sending them back to the Middle East to counter any threat from Iran.
The Central Command said the Gulf exercise was starting on Sunday with a meeting for senior commanders when they would view the latest mine hunting and disposal inventions. In the second phase, sea manoeuvres would be held including mine detection and clearance operations.
The Bahrain-based Central Command is responsible for an area comprising some 2.5 million square miles stretching from the Gulf to parts of the Indian Ocean.
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Pravin Char)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 16 Sep 2012 02:07 PM PDT
GUANGZHOU/BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing is struggling to deal with an increasingly violent flashpoint of social unrest in its healthcare system, as its latest bid to cut costs is failing to ease tensions among millions of people who cannot afford basic treatment.
Violent attacks directed at hospital doctors and other healthcare workers in the form of beatings, threats, kidnappings, verbal abuse and even killings soared in recent years to 17,243 cases in 2010, alarming central policymakers who regard China's overhaul of its lumbering public healthcare system a top national priority.
Critics say China's efforts to cut treatment costs in public hospitals and defuse tensions do not go far enough and show little sign of reversing the violence of angry sufferers.
"The government is very worried about violence against doctors, especially when a few doctors and healthcare workers were attacked earlier this year. Some hospitals now have guards guarding them," said a health official in southern Guangdong province, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
"It's a top priority to stop these things from happening," said the source, who works in hospital administration.
In July, the ruling Communist Party sought to make treatment more affordable by looking to ban an age-old practice among public hospitals of marking up drugs prices by 15 percent, a practice the government allowed to flourish after it wound back subsidies for public hospitals from the 1950s.
The ban applies to 300 county hospitals under a pilot project. But a patients' group and senior Chinese health officials say the measure, even if implemented nationwide, does not make medicines substantially more affordable.
Instead, they say Beijing must tackle the far fatter markups enjoyed by drug distributors, a web of middlemen who inflate prices by 40 percent and sometimes by several-fold to levels that are beyond the reach of many ordinary Chinese.
This is a "bigger problem", said Liao Xinbo, deputy director general for health in southern Guangdong province.
"Nothing is being done to change this," said Liao, who is about to publish his second book taking a critical look at China's healthcare reforms.
PAYING THE BILL
One Chinese struggling to meet medical bills is Xu Shiding, who needs weekly injections that each cost more than 1,300 yuan ($210) to control chronic hepatitis C.
The gold miner in China's north-western region of Xinjiang has to pay out of his own pocket for one or two injections each month. He has state health insurance, but his cover is limited.
With monthly income of 2,600 yuan, he has been forced to borrow money from his family, he said.
"I have even become a boyfriend of a wealthy married woman," said Xu, sobbing at times, as he alluded to how he needs his mistress's financial support to pay for his treatment. Left untreated, such patients may end up with liver cirrhosis and even cancer.
The average cost of a single hospital admission in China is roughly the same as average annual income, a 2008 paper published in The Lancet said. For the lowest fifth of income earners, it is more than twice average annual earnings, the paper said.
REFORMS MEET VESTED INTERESTS
China's healthcare spending is set to grow to $1 trillion (616 billion pounds) by 2020 from $357 billion in 2011, consultancy McKinsey & Company said in a report in July.
Embedded in China's healthcare system are strong vested interests: tens of thousands of drug-makers and distributors supporting workers and their families and local governments that depend on tax revenues from these companies.
In China's fragmented healthcare sector, a batch of drugs can go through two, even three layers of distributors before ending up at a hospital. It is not uncommon to have a distributor servicing only one hospital. Each distributor takes a cut and pays doctors and advertisers to promote its sales.
Beijing has a blueprint for reforming distribution but healthcare experts say it is bound to face fierce resistance among provincial authorities already worried about tax revenues as economic growth slows down.
"There are literally thousands of distributors and they tend to be localised ... China wants to consolidate them. But every time a small company disappears, it is the taxes, jobs that go away," said Franck Le Deu, partner and head of Greater China healthcare at McKinsey & Company in Shanghai.
"Therefore, the consolidation process faces resistance."
In addition, some of the companies involved in the distribution chain are state-owned enterprises, which will resist change, said Li Renbing, a lawyer representing the China Patients' Rights League Project Group.
"Can the government cut them out completely? These enterprises have to survive, which is why this middle section (of distributors) is preserved," Li said.
Still, some major distributors are not resistant to changing the current system. Beijing is starting to set floor and ceiling prices for state-subsidised medicines, which they say could help deliver more affordable healthcare.
"When both the floor and ceiling prices are controlled, then whoever has a better and more trusted brand will gain," said Jia Zhongxin, chief operating officer for Sihuan Pharmaceutical Holdings Group Ltd, the eighth largest drugmaker and distributor in China by market share.
Still, critics say even that idea won't work because hospitals can find other ways to increase costs for patients, such as by encouraging tests that may not be necessary, and sophisticated and costly treatment.
While Beijing wound back subsidies from the 1950s, it allowed hospitals to mark up drug prices to alleviate budget pressure, effectively passing these costs on to patients.
Drug distributors then moved into the picture from the 1980s when China opened up its economy, pushing prices even higher.
Critics say doctors have an incentive to earn commissions on prescribing drugs because by international standards their salaries are low, ranging from 4,000 yuan ($628) to 10,000 yuan ($1,570) a month.
"Within this space, salesmen push for sales, offering commissions to doctors if they prescribe more of certain drugs. Prices go up. Hospitals prescribe more expensive drugs because the cuts and the markups from them are higher," said Liao, the Guangdong province health official.
"Everyone profits from this big mark-up. Who suffers? The common people. Whoever has to consume the drug suffers." ($1 = 6.3264 Chinese yuan)
(Additional Reporting by Donny Kwok in Hong Kong: Editing by Neil Fullick)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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