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Infectious Diseases Leading Cause Of Mortality, Says WHO

The Washington Post

Infectious and parasitic diseases are the leading cause of mortality on the planet, but heart disease, stroke and cancerdisorders associated with longevity, smoking and an affluent lifestyle - now kill almost as many people worldwide, according to a new report by the World Health Organization.

Infections accounted for nearly one-third of the 51 million deaths in 1993. Pneumonia and other respiratory infections alone kill about 4.1 million children under the age of 5, and the many causes of diarrhea claim another 3 million. The most devastating individual infections, tuberculosis and malaria, each year kill 2.7 million and 2 million people respectively, according to the study.

Infection has probably always been the likeliest cause of death for human beings, although today more than 90 percent of the risk of dying from this cause falls on people in poor and developing nations. The WHO report, however, sketches a picture in which wealth, longevity and modernity bring their own toll of illness.

"Smoking is emerging as the world's largest single preventable cause of illness and death," the report's authors wrote. They estimated there are 1.1 billion smokers in the world, about 800 million in developing countries. The world's population is roughly 5.6 billion.

Political Maneuvering Over Medicare Continues

The Washington Post

Political maneuvering over the huge Medicare program continued Monday, with the White House rejecting a call by Republicans to offer solutions to the program's looming insolvency and Republicans scrambling to avoid blame if their efforts to balance the federal budget produce massive cuts in Medicare.

At the White House, Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta sent House Speaker Newt Gingrich [R-Ga.], a letter rejecting Gingrich's call for specific Medicare reforms from the Clinton administration as well as a GOP plan to fence off Medicare from the overall budget process.

The White House maintains that the GOP wants to pay for tax cuts with an equal amount of savings in Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, which faces insolvency by the year 2002 under current projections.

The Senate and House Budget Committees are scheduled to begin work next week on seven-year budget plans for eliminating the deficit and committee leaders have targeted Medicare for between $250 billion and $300 billion in savings, according to sources. If Gingrich's proposal for placing Medicare reform on a separate track were taken literally, Republicans would have no way of achieving their goal of a balanced budget by the turn of the century without gutting many other politically sensitive programs.

Online Gathering Billed as Step Toward Electronic Government

The Washington Post

Think of it as a town meeting without the town hall.

The Clinton administration will sponsor a two-week-long, nationwide public meeting, which started Monday, to find out what sorts of government information and services people are interested in receiving over computer networks.

But unlike at other public meetings, where interested individuals trudge into an auditorium to speak their mind, participants in the National Electronic Open Meeting will be at home, at work or in public libraries across the country typing on computer keyboards. The meeting, which organizers in the Office of Management and Budget expect will draw more than 50,000 participants, will take place on-line and could be one of the largest such electronic gatherings ever held.

Billed as a first step toward creating an electronic government, the gathering will open discussions with citizens on how to develop interactive government services, such as paying taxes and receiving Social Security benefits on-line. Organizers, which include OMB and the Commerce Department, plan to use the feedback to help shape the administration's computerization efforts.