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World Briefs I

Chechnya Defies Russian Law With Firing Squad Executions

Los Angeles Times

Chechnya's stifled battle for independence from Russia resumed expression Thursday when a firing squad gunned down two accused murderers in a public execution in defiance of Russian law and sensitivities.

The execution before as many as 5,000 spectators - the second in as many weeks in the rebellious southern republic - served as another brutal reminder to Moscow that the 21-month-old war may have been halted but Chechnya's quest for separation has not.

Russian television carried gruesome footage of the execution in which six soldiers manacled the bearded convicts to a brick wall then sprayed them with submachine-gun fire, sending bullets ricocheting across the crowded square and clouds of dust and pulverized brick billowing around the mangled corpses.

Although capital punishment remains a legal option in Russia, President Boris Yeltsin ordered a moratorium on executions earlier this year in a half-measure intended to show compliance with requirements imposed by the Council of Europe for membership in that Western alliance.

Number of Newly Diagnosed AIDS Cases Declines, Officials Say

Los Angeles Times

For the first time since the AIDS epidemic was identified 16 years ago, the number of newly diagnosed cases of the AIDS disease in adolescent and adult Americans declined last year, federal health officials reported Thursday.

The incidence of the disease in people older than 12 dropped six percent between 1995 and 1996, from 60,620 cases to 56,730 cases, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The encouraging trend - going hand-in-hand with reports in recent months of dramatic drops in AIDS-related deaths - likely reflects the impact of powerful new drug treatments and prevention efforts that have prolonged symptom-free survival for those with the virus, health officials said.

The new CDC numbers represent individuals who developed clinically defined AIDS - that is, who experienced an AIDS-related infection or other symptom, or whose immune system CD4 cells have dropped to 250 or fewer, or both.

Nor was all the news positive. The incidence of cases traced to heterosexual transmission continued to rise, jumping 11 percent among men and seven percent among women.

Sickle Cell Treatment Announced

The Washington Post

Federal health officials issued a rare clinical alert to the nation's doctors Thursday to announce the discovery of a treatment that prevents life-threatening strokes in children with sickle cell anemia, a debilitating blood disease that primarily affects blacks.

The treatment is so dramatically effective, doctors said, they were compelled to halt a four-year study more than a year ahead of schedule so the therapy could quickly be offered to all of the estimated 2,500 American children who are most likely to benefit from it.

But the treatment - which involves blood transfusions every three to four weeks and requires that children remain attached to a drug-infusion pump for up to 12 hours a day, five days a week - is uncomfortable, expensive and carries its own risks.

Moreover, few health centers are equipped to conduct the therapy as precisely as the federally funded research team, leaving uncertain whether the treatment will prove as effective in other doctors' hands.

That means many parents will now have to make a difficult choice, doctors said, between the high costs and risks associated with the disease and those associated with its treatment.

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disorder that affects one in 500 African-Americans and one in 1,000 Hispanics, or about 72,000 Americans.

Caused by a defect in oxygen-ferrying hemoglobin in red blood cells, it makes those cells rigid and likely to clump in blood vessels, which become progressively damaged. Victims suffer periodic and painful "crises" resembling heart attacks in various parts of the body, and typically die in their forties.

Researchers said they did not know how long a child might have to remain on the therapy, but said it may be until adolescence or later. The risk of stroke among sickle cell patients peaks at ages eight to 10 and again around age 30.