Nation/world briefs 11/13/03

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Pfizer to provide free antibiotic to 135 million

UNITED NATIONS -- In a major boost to a U.N. campaign to eradicate an eye infection that causes blindness, Pfizer announced that it will provide an antibiotic free to treat about 90 percent of the 150 million people afflicted.

The international organization leading the fight against trachoma-related blindness said it is "enthusiastic" that with the medicine it can now achieve the goal set by the World Health Organization of eliminating the ancient scourge by 2020.

Over the last five years, the pharmaceutical giant has provided eight million doses of the antibiotic Zithromax to the International Trachoma Initiative to treat sufferers in nine impoverished countries in Africa and Asia.

Former oil executives convicted in graft scandal

PARIS -- A French court convicted three former executives Wednesday of helping loot $350 million from the Elf oil company to finance lavish lifestyles, closing a chapter in a scandal that sullied the nation's political and business elite.

Former Elf chairman Loik Le Floch-Prigent, 60, and senior director Alfred Sirven, 76, were given five-year prison terms for masterminding the mass embezzlement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Elf was under state ownership.

Sirven, the company's former No. 2 official, was ordered to pay $1.16 million, while Le Floch-Prigent must pay $435,000.

Supreme Court weighs in on age discrimination

WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court justices fretted Wednesday over an age discrimination fight that pits 40-something workers against their older colleagues over job benefits.

The court has been called on to interpret a federal law that protects workers over 40 from age discrimination. In an odd twist, some 40-something General Dynamics Corp. workers sued claiming they are being discriminated against because they are too young to get benefits being offered to older colleagues.

While some of the aging justices seemed concerned about discrimination faced by mid-career workers, there was more distress over the prospect of allowing companies to be sued for treating their oldest employees generously.

Senate approves $401.3 billion defense bill

WASHINGTON -- The Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a $401.3 billion defense bill that gives the Pentagon greater control over its civilian work force and eases environmental restrictions on the military.

The bill authorizing 2004 defense programs now goes to President Bush for his signature.

Democrats joined Republicans in the 95-3 vote, despite their objections to the broader Pentagon authority. They stressed the measure would provide new benefits to both active duty soldiers and veterans.

Cholesterol drugs may stop clogging arteries

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The first head-to-head comparison of popular statin drugs suggests that lowering cholesterol more aggressively than the current national guidelines recommend can completely stop dangerous clogging of the arteries.

The results address one of the biggest questions in cardiology: How low should bad cholesterol go? For now, the answer seems to be as low as possible.

Nevertheless, other experts caution that it is too soon to rewrite federal guidelines, although that may be in the offing as several new studies tackle this issue in the next few years.

-- From wire reports

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