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Texas, Connecticut doctors help launch U.N. Bone and Joint Decade (1-13-00)

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, actress Lauren Hutton and a dozen celebrities and physicians announced the start of the international "Bone and Joint Decade 2000-2010" at a press conference today (Jan. 13) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The worldwide initiative seeks to increase awareness of musculoskeletal conditions, such as osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain and osteoarthritis, and reduce their crippling effects. The international Bone and Joint Decade Steering Committee includes two U.S. physicians, Nicolas E. Walsh, M.D., professor and chairman of rehabilitation medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and Bruce D. Browner, M.D., professor and chairman of orthopaedic surgery at The University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.

Drs. Walsh also is executive associate dean of the U. T. Health Science Center’s Medical School. His selection to the U.N. committee "is a sterling example of the prominence of San Antonio’s physician community in international circles," said Jim Reed, president of the San Antonio Medical Foundation.

Dr. Walsh and his wife, Wendy, will attend a gala ball and Dr. Walsh will participate in a World Health Organization symposium in Geneva. Camilla Parker Bowles, famous confidant of Prince Charles, will present an award for bone and joint research. Dr. Walsh is presiding over one of the four sections of the WHO symposium and over the press conference at the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva.

Ms. Hutton, the famous model and actress, spoke at Thursday’s press conference on behalf of osteoporosis patients such as herself. Other patients telling their disease stories were Ronaldo, famous soccer player suffering from a knee injury; Angela Columbo, the first plegic (or paralyzed) patient to walk after treatment by muscle transfer; and Frank Neubauer, famous German actor who has a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta.

"Rheumatoid arthritis … low back pain … osteoporosis … traumatic injuries from traffic accidents; we are embarking on a decade of awareness, treatment and research that hopefully will make a difference in the lives of people worldwide," Dr. Walsh said Tuesday before departing from San Antonio.

The U.N. appointed only five people to the Steering Committee, including Dr. Walsh, a highly decorated former Navy Seal who became a rehabilitation expert after experiencing a career-ending injury in Vietnam.

The Bone and Joint Decade (2000-2010) follows the Decade of the Brain (1990-2000), which served to raise awareness of the impact of brain disorders and saw the rise of significant scientific advances, including important findings made by the Health Science Center’s own Research Imaging Center and its director, Peter T. Fox, M.D.

Bone and Joint Decade goals are to reduce the social and financial cost of musculoskeletal disorders to society; to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment for patients worldwide; to advance research on prevention and treatment; and to empower patients to make decisions about their care.

The United Nations wants 80 percent of the world’s countries to endorse and actively participate in the Bone and Joint Decade by 2002, and plans to establish public and patient education programs in all participating countries. Working with national research councils and funding bodies in each country, the U.N. seeks to triple existing musculoskeletal research funding during the decade.

Also as part of the effort, medical schools will be encouraged to include at least six months of training on musculoskeletal disorders with the aim of improving diagnostic skills and accuracy of patient referrals. Institutions will be encouraged to base diagnosis and treatment of these disorders on evidence-based guidelines, and to develop newer, more effective drugs and surgical procedures. By the end of the decade, officials hope to see 20 percent to 25 percent reduction of expected increases in osteoporotic fractures, joint destruction in joint diseases, severe injuries in road and other accidents, spinal disorders and genetically inherited diseases.

Worldwide, musculoskeletal conditions affect hundreds of millions of people and are the most common causes of severe long-term pain and physical disability. The cost to society is huge (an estimated $215 billion a year in this country alone).

Forty percent of all women over 50 years of age will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture, according to U.N. literature. The number of hip fractures, which totaled 1.7 million just a decade ago, will rise to 6.3 million by 2050 unless aggressive preventive programs are started.

Another disorder, osteoarthritis, accounts for half of all chronic conditions in persons 65 or older. It is rated the highest cause of work loss in the United States, despite being a condition that causes most problems to post-retirement populations.

Low back pain is the most frequent case of limited activity in the young and middle aged, and is the most frequent occupational injury. It is the second leading cause of sick leave, according to U.N. literature.

"There are effective ways to prevent or treat these disabling conditions, but we must act on them now," Annan said in a prepared statement before Thursday’s announcement.

For more information, go to <http://www.bonejointdecade.org> on the World Wide Web.

Contact: Will Sansom